Since the shooting at a Newtown, CT elementary school just over a month ago, there has been endless talk about guns. Gun control, gun owners rights, how many guns are enough, how many bullets are too many, what kind of guns are assault weapons and what kind of gun are reasonable. Who can own a gun and how do we keep guns away from the people we deem too dangerous to own them. I’ve seen gun opponents proposing control ideas that range from common sense to pie-in-the-sky fantasies of a gun-less world. I’ve seen gun owners defend, not only the philosophies that drive their gun ownership, but also they ways in which they keep guns in their homes.
What I haven’t seen is much frank parent-to-parent talk about who owns guns and how they store them.
A study conducted in 1993 concluded that the risk of being killed or injured by a gun increases 22 times if there is a gun in the home, and a more recent study finds a similar link between owning a gun an increased risk to deaths at home, particularly among women, older adults and children. As a non-gun owner, that statistic makes me breathe a little easier; the mere fact of not owning a gun means my kids and I are safer than people with guns in their home. But…but what if my kids are at a house with a gun in it?
My friend Jen, known as TheNextMartha on Twitter wrote a provocative post on her blog The Martha Project about parents asking other parents about guns in the home before sending kids over to play. It’s a subject I’ve thought of before. I’m distinctly uncomfortable with the idea of guns and children being in the same place and I have sussed out friends about gun ownership before, though never as directly as I really should if I’m to be true to my personal convictions. As it happens, most of my friends are of a similar mindset on guns and simply don’t own them. Even my friends with military backgrounds don’t keep guns in their homes.
However, I know that millions of people do own guns and do keep them in the home. Do most parents who own guns keep them stored safely away from curious little people? I certainly hope so. But that’s not always the case. My friend Barry recently share a story about being at a friend’s house when he was a young teenager. At some point during the visit, the friend’s younger brother got his hands on a shotgun and laughingly pointed it at the older boys. As isolated as that story might be, it froze me in my tracks. Even one loose shotgun around kids is too many. It only takes one to kill a child by accident.
In her post, Jen had a rather elegant solution for how to cover the subject of gun ownership, parent to parent:
I have the right to not have my child at anyone’s house that I feel might be unsafe. Just like they can choose to not have their child at my house because I don’t have an armed weapon for safety.
These are choices. We all have them.
I have decided that if we have over play dates, even if they don’t ask, I will inform the parents that we do not have guns in our home.
These conversations needs to start.
These conversations need to start at home.
Please join me.
I have already joined her and I am telling other parents that we do not own guns. It probably sounds strange, coming from out of the blue, but it’s a way to begin the conversation. I have made the decision to be brave and ask outright if other families own guns and if they do, may I see how they are secured. If I’m not comfortable with the situation, I simply won’t let my child play over at that house, choosing instead to invite their children over to mine.
The final piece of the puzzle comes in educating my child. I’ve started talking to him about what to do if he see anything that looks like a gun: talk to a grown up before touching it. Even a water gun. Even a Nerf gun. Don’t ask a friend, don’t pick it up and see. Ask a grown-up. Yes, I know how this makes me look. I am a nutty mom whose kid will be asking permission to pick up a Super-Soaker. I’m ok with that. I’m ok with it because my son is 5. He’s old enough to play at other children’s houses without me present but he’s not old enough to be able to tell a real gun from a realistic toy. For the moment, I’d rather go too far in my cautions about guns. That’s my choice as a parent.
Will I alienate parents who own guns? Maybe. Gun ownership is a personal choice. Some gun owners might be grateful to demonstrate their safety choices and think highly of me decision to safeguard my child by asking. Then again, my attitude might grate on people who don’t think their security choices are my business.. On the whole, I’d rather have a parent think I’m a sanctimonious gun-alarmist than have my child find himself looking down the barrel of an unsecured shotgun the way my friend Barry did. That’s why I’ll be asking and telling from now on.
Photo credit: photo stock
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