The Important Safety Question Parents Aren’t Asking

9394736640_f7b196260dAs parents we’re called upon to do a lot of things: teach, provide, care, and most importantly, protect our children.

Like most, I take this parenting thing seriously and would like to think I’m doing a pretty good job. From covered electrical outlets to cushioned table corners, helmeted heads to school pickups and drop offs, danger mitigation is what us parents do best.

And while it’s true that we can’t protect our kids from everything, it’ll never stop us from trying.

When my husband and I got into a major debate over owning a gun, I absolutely refused to back down. Despite knowing that firearms can be kept securely within a home, as for me and my house, the answer will always be no. But what I never stopped to consider was that the gun I refused to keep in my own house might easily reside in someone else’s.

While national estimated gun ownership statistics vary, a Pew Research Center study found that 37 percent of American households contain firearms. Is this to suggest that on average, 37 percent of my kids’ friends have firearms in the homes they frequent? Perhaps. What percentage of those firearms are locked up and stowed away safely? As Nicole Blades of ms. marymack points out, we’ll never know unless we ask.

So parents, why aren’t we asking: Do you keep a gun in the home?

Because it feels weird, right? And yet we have no problem asking whether those cookies contain peanuts, whether the backyard pool is gated, or whether the family dog is friendly. We never stop and think about firearms in other people’s homes. And guess what? The oversight can be deadly. According to the Center for Disease Control, 785 kids under age 14 lost their lives to unintentional firearm deaths between 1999 and 2010. That’s 785 kids who belonged to loving parents, 785 kids with promising futures, and 785 kids who could have just as easily been one of ours.

As far as I know, only one of my kids’ friends has firearms in his home. And even then I only know because his mother, a police officer, notified me long before my son ever set foot inside their home. She’d seen enough to understand that this was information I deserved to know. If I had a gun in my home, particularly one that was out of reach and stored securely in a lock box, would I think to notify parents? Maybe not.

Listen, I know asking about gun ownership feels awkward, but until we start asking, we’ll never remove the sting of the question or shadow of uncertainty. In thinking about the best way to approach this and other important safety questions relating to my kids in other people’s homes, I think honesty is the way to go:

Hi, I’m Lori. Thanks for inviting my son to your house; he’s so excited. I hope you can understand that I make it a point to talk to my son’s friend’s parents as a matter of safety, as I’m sure you do. Would you mind if I asked a few questions about your home environment?

My son isn’t a very strong swimmer, do you have a pool? Is it gated?

I know you mentioned something about taking the boys to lunch, do you have a proper child restraint or would you like me to bring one?

Do you keep a firearm in your home? How is it secured?

Are there any special household rules my son needs to be aware of?

I know it sounds like a lot, you guys, but this is information PARENTS NEED TO KNOW and honestly, I’d applaud any parent who asked these questions of me and my home.

So tell me, will you be asking the question?

Image credit: Flickr/D Sharon Pruit

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