kids and guns

When your child goes to a friend’s house, do you ever wonder if there are guns present in the friend’s home?  Do you ever ask the child’s parent?

Last week, The New York Times Motherlode blogger KJ Dell’Antonia relayed a story about a reader who was trying to help her thirteen-year-old son come to grips with the death of his friend, who had shot himself to death with a gun the writer didn’t even know her son’s parents owned.

This writer, her son and their community face a painful recovery from this tragedy.  But Dell’Antonia, herself the mother of four children, found herself wondering about the writer’s friend’s son, who had spent considerable time at this boy’s house.  He had slept there overnight.  And his mother had had no idea that there was a gun in the house or that her son’s friend could gain access to it.

Dell’Antonia questioned whether we talk as much to our children’s friend’s parents about whether they keep guns in their homes as our kids get older as we do when they’re young.*  But I’d like to pose the question of whether we truly engage in these discussions at all, as so many pediatricians and safety groups recommend.

Have you asked other parents if they keep guns before letting your children–of any age–spend time without you in someone else’s home?  If these parents have responded that they do own a gun, have you asked follow-up questions?  Which ones?  Do you ask how the guns are stored?  Do you ask if they’re locked?  Do you ask if the ammunition is stored separately from the guns themselves?  Do you ask if the children ever have access to the guns, if they’ve had safety training, if there are trigger locks?  At what point do you feel like you’re going overboard?

Is it realistic to interview other parents about guns each time your child asks for a play date?

Part of the answer, obviously, is to talk to our kids about guns.  I’ve done that, and I will do it again.  But relying on childish judgment in a life-and-death situation is a shaky proposition.  Who really knows what will happen if children actually find themselves in an uncomfortable and/or potentially dangerous situation?

For me, what’s a bit odd here is that I generally consider myself to be overaggressive in terms of safety in many respects.  (When we put our first house on the market when our older child was a year old, our realtor remarked that our house was, “the best baby-proofed house I’ve ever seen!”)  But interviewing people regarding the details of what goes on in their own homes is different.  How realistic is it to subject another parent to an interrogation each time your child wants to go to a new friend’s house for a play date?

I live in an area where gun ownership is common.  I feel like I should probably ask every parent if he or she has a gun in the home before my child visits.  But I’ll admit I haven’t always–or even often–done this.  I’ve never quite known how to handle the ask-about-guns-before-a-play date conundrum.

Readers, what are your thoughts about talking to other parents about guns?  And if you live in an area where many people own guns, how does that affect your answer?  Would you ever consider enrolling your older child in a gun-safety class, even if you don’t approve of guns yourself, just in case your child encounters a gun?


*In light of Monday’s fatal shooting at a high school in Chardon, Ohio, Dell’Antonia followed up her earlier Motherlode post with one today in which she asked the question, valid in both cases of teen suicide and homicide, of why some teenagers find guns to be solutions to their problems.  It’s a good question that deserves serious attention.  Indeed, why does anyone find guns to be the solution to his or her problems, and what can we do to change that?

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