In my house we’re busy, working parents but we’ve certainly had lots of friends and relatives here at our house to play. No one has ever asked me if we had guns in the house. Last week my son visited a neighbor’s home and I didn’t ask before he went over.
I’ve asked friends and relatives if they had guns in their home in the past but I’m inconsistent–I may be out of practice. Asking a friend if there is a gun in the house can seem like a challenging and invasive task. I’ve written previously that asking about guns in the house for the first time can feel like asking about the color of someone’s underwear. We have to get over it.
An average of 8 kids and teens are killed by firearms every day and 42 additional children and teens are seriously injured.
It’s national ASK Day today thanks to the Center to Prevent Youth Violence. The statistics that got us here are staggering.
In April, for example, Bonnie Rochman at TIME wrote, “a 4-year-old picked up a loaded gun at a cook-out and accidentally killed the wife of a sheriff’s deputy in Tennessee. And on Monday, another 4-year-old shot and killed a 6-year-old friend as they played outside in a New Jersey neighborhood. ‘I’m sad for the children involved and their families, but I’m angry with whoever owns that gun and allowed a little child to get hold of it,’ neighbor Debbie Coto told the Associated Press.”
About 40% of homes in the US with children have guns and while only 1/2 of parents state they are concerned about guns, we know that 1 in 4 children who live in a home with a gun say they have touched it without their parents knowledge. Unintentional gun deaths are immensely tragic. Research shows that some 88% of children who are injured or killed by unintentional shootings are injured in their own home or the home of a friend or relative. The ASK campaign provides a great tips for how to ask about guns:
More than 70,000 children and teens in Washington live in homes with loaded guns, and nearly 25,000 children live in homes with guns that are loaded and unlocked.
How To Ask About Guns At Home:
- Make asking about guns typical and normal in your social circle–it really doesn’t have to be confrontational. If you start asking at every single first play-date or drop-off and you encourage your friends and neighbors to ask about how guns are stored, this will be the norm.
- Deflect some of this onto your pediatrician. Start a conversation with, “My pediatrician recommended that we ask about guns because there are unintentional gun deaths every day, even in our state and 1 in 4 children who lives in a house with guns say they have touched the gun without a parent knowing….”
- Advertise your commitment to ask about guns without judgment and use statistics. Link to the ASK campaign today on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, or LinkedIn to get others doing the sam thing.
- If a family does have a gun in their home, make sure all the guns are stored unloaded and in a locked container while separately stored from the ammunition.
- Remind friends and family that children are always innately curious. Their interest in something they don’t know much about (guns) is normal. Curiosity drives development.
- Teach your children if they ever see or spot a gun to find an adult immediately. Teach them to never touch a gun and to run to find a grown-up if another child does. As a reminder, a BB gun is a gun, just like any other.
Be one of the parents who can easily say, “I ask” and spread the word today for all of our children’s safety — please “like” the Center to Reduce Youth Violence’s ASK Campaign on Facebook!
love it – will forward! Thanks, Wendy Sue.
This is a great post. I shared it on Facebook and hope that it will help get people talking. I decided a little while back to start asking about guns when my kids have playdates. (Haven’t done it yet – none of my kids have been to a new house since I decided to start asking.)
I’m appalled and saddened every time I read that someone has died due to an accidental shooting after a child got a hold of a gun. But that could easily be any of our kids if we neglect to ask about guns.
(I wouldn’t let my child ride with a friend without asking about car seats, so why would I let them go to a friend’s house without asking about guns?)
Wally's mom says
My spouse has recently become friends with a group of self proclaimed survivalists who all have permits to carry weapons. They are all highly trained (some ex-Army), but it makes me extremely uncomfortable. When we have gone to their homes for dinner functions the people there are all wearing weapons. Is there any advice you can lend for how I can still be supportive to my spouse but not support his friends’ stance on weapons?
You can talk to your husband in a calm way about your concerns. If they’re his friends, he can ask them to store their guns in safes when your kids are in their homes. If he won’t or his friends won’t honor your request to store their weapons in a gun safe when you’re at their homes, can you leave the kids with a babysitter when you and your husband go to these dinners? Or, if you’re uncomfortable as you say, perhaps you can arrange something else for you and the kids to do–maybe dinner with one of your friends or a movie night–at the same time as the dinners. The kids might actually prefer it; they may be uncomfortable, too. Or at least bored hanging around an adults’ dinner and bridge night. It may be awkward for you to be “left out,” but awkward is better than tragic. If you’re uncomfortable, it’ll be evident anyways.
Also, I know this varies a lot by couple, but in addition to a few mutual friends, my parents always had their own sets of friends that they hung out with individually. They were supportive of these friendships (my mom likes my dad’s vinyl record enthusiast group; my dad likes my mom’s museum buddies), but they almost never both go out with one or the other’s friends. Perhaps you two can come to an agreement in which this new group can be your husband’s friends, and you can be friendly but just hang back. The way he probably does with your lady friends. You can be supportive without being a central member of this group. Good luck!
Wendy Sue Swanson, MD, MBE says
Hi Wally’s Mom,
I like the tips Mia provided.
I think this will likely have to be an ongoing discussion with your spouse. But perhaps you can set a limit that you keep your children separate from places where adults have loaded weapons for now. Because of the risks and data out there, we know children are always saver in a home without guns. That being said, even when guns are around they should be unloaded and stored separate from ammunition. IT doesn’t sound like that is possible in this dinner scenario.
Perhaps a compromise. State how much you want to value his friendships but how you also want your children in safe environments. Hire a sitter, don’t bring the kids or take turns being in this group.
Keep us posted here how conversations go and if we can support you with more information or data.
A few tips from a mom with a concealed carry permit (guns are stored locked, unloaded and out of my child’s reach, and I’ve never carried concealed when with my child), who was raised in a family that had guns.
One thing to keep in mind when asking about a family’s guns is that the child might not know about the guns or know where they are stored. My father, who was in the army, had quite a large gun collection while I was a child, but I never was told where the gun safe even was until I was old enough to go target shooting. My father may have told me he had guns, or maybe he thought I’d just know he’d have them since he was in the army, but I don’t remember it, and don’t remember knowing about the guns when I was young. My father considered it a security measure to tell as few people as possible about the guns: no one could try to steal them or get curious and go looking for them if they don’t know they’re there. Paranoid? Maybe, but I think I’d be uncomfortable about going into great detail about where my guns are stored if, when my daughter is old enough to have friends over, a friend’s parent wanted more information than “they’re unloaded and locked up out of the kids’ reach.” It might make the conversation less awkward to discuss this privately with the parent, not in front of the kids or other people.
Second, or the parent concerned about people carrying concealed weapons, how worried I would be would depend on the people carrying, the types of holsters being used, and the ages of the children. With grabby toddlers, I can understand being concerned about anything that might be within their reach, like a gun in an ankle or belt holster. If the guns are, in fact, concealed, an older child may not even know that they’re there. If the people carrying are using holsters that have a strap to keep the gun in place and that do not allow access to the trigger while the gun is holstered, they’re probably quite safe. The person carrying would notice a child trying to grab the gun long before the child could get the gun out of the holster. It would be like someone trying to take off your underwear. Other types of holsters might be less secure, and I certainly wouldn’t want my child anywhere near someone carrying with a gun purse. Ask the survivalist friends about how they carry, they’ll probably be very happy to go into great detail about it, and you can get an idea of how big of a concern safety is for them. Perhaps request that if children will be present, they carry with more secure holsters? An additional safety measure that few people carrying concealed take, but which is popular in Israel, is carrying without a round chambered. It’s easy enough to chamber the round while drawing the gun if you need to defend yourself, and it reduces the risk of an accidental discharge.
There can be a very big difference in attitudes toward safety among gun owners, much like there can be big differences in attitude about car safety. I wouldn’t worry about a child being in a home with guns or near a person carrying concealed if it’s someone as obsessive about safety as my father, but I’ve certainly met gun owners who I’d be very afraid to go within a mile of with my child. When you’re asking people about these things, the person’s attitude is as important as their answers. Someone lazy about gun safety may be lazy about safety in other areas as well. Many gun owners also enjoy collecting other weapons like knives or swords, and there are plenty of other dangerous household items to worry about. I wouldn’t leave my kid in a house with someone who only grudgingly agrees to keep the guns locked up while she plays there. And I’d worry even more about the parent who has guns and lies to me about it, which is why I’ll be teaching my daughter from a young age that guns are very dangerous and not to be touched.
Bob Deveny says
So, Sheila, you carry concealed to protect yourself when not with your child, but you are not willing to carry concealed to protect your child when that child is with you? Why carry at all? I wish I had the ability to know in advance when I might or won’t need to protect myself or my family.
Bob Deveny says
Do you also ask if you child’s friends have scissors, knives, baseball bat, ladders or any of the other implements of accidental injury of death?
Wendy Sue Swanson, MD, MBE says