Having The TalkIf I invited your child over to play at my house, you’d get an email that read, “My son would love to have your child over for a playdate! We have no pets, no one in the house smokes, and we don’t own any guns.”
I’ve mentioned those three things for years, ever since my son, who’s now in third grade, started kindergarten and started making friends on his own. I’ve never asked other parents if they keep guns in their home before allowing my kids to go over for parties or playdates - until now.
Other moms that I know are thinking the same way, but many of us have this anxiety that we’re going to offend gun owners and end up with ostracized children. Some let me quote them here if I changed their names.
“How in the world do you even ask someone this before your kid goes over for a party or the like?” said my friend Katie. “Maybe we need to add a line under the RSVP like ‘gun free home.’”
Isn’t it weirder to worry about awkward conversations than our child’s safety?
Would other parents get offended if I asked if they owned guns? What if I declined to send my son to their home because they had a gun? I asked my friend Sarah. She shared publicly that her 12 year old son passed his gun safety test.
“I have never had anyone ask me about it and I have never asked anyone,” Sarah replied. “I wouldn't have a problem if a parent asked me, though. It wouldn't bother me if they wouldn't let their child over, either. I am not a gun fan myself. All ours are locked up.”
“Would you ever ask your husband to remove the guns from your home?” I asked.
“I don't think I would ever ask him to take the guns that he has for hunting out of the house, because I am comfortable with the way he has handled them and the way they are stored,” said Sarah.
“Something would really have to happen for me to change my mind,” To me, that something has already happened. It happened in Columbine, Paducah, Virginia Tech, Aurora, and Newtown.
My friend Katie sent me a link to a story about a four year-old boy visiting someone’s house. The child found a gun in the house and killed his own father. You can read about the two year old who shot himself in the head when he found his parents’ gun. Read about the five year old who used the gun he was given as a birthday present to kill his younger sister. And these aren't the rare incidents. This is becoming a public health issue.
When my son started kindergarten, I learned just how many kids hunt with their parents and how many families in our neighborhood own guns. My son came home knowing the names of guns that I had never heard of, and had to look up on the internet to see if they were real or from video games.
“I don’t even buy water guns for my children,” I told his kindergarten teacher.
|Water Guns: Fun or Fail?|
“There’s no evidence it leads to violent behavior,” she said, twenty years of parenting and teaching under her belt. “But I do recommend one thing. If you buy your boys water guns, get one for yourself. It’s no fun if you can’t shoot back.”
Shoot a gun at my own children? Even a water gun?
Let me be honest: I grew up playing laser tag in my back yard with my brother. I shot him with water guns more times than he shot me, I’m pretty sure. My dad brought us toy crossbows back from a trip to Germany and I remember hours of target practice fun. We played Duck Hunt on Nintendo when I was young, and I played HALO with my husband, late into the night, as an adult. I've played with toy guns my whole life and never once wanted to use a real one. But our community here is different than where I grew up.
I had talked with friends, moms and teachers about guns. I decided I needed to have ‘the talk’ with my boys.
I asked, “What would you do if you were at a friend’s house and saw a gun?”
“Run away and don’t touch it!” my five year-old shouted. (But he shouts everything, even "I love you!' and especially 'Good Morning!")
“I would try to throw it out the window,” my eight year-old son answered.
“Actually, that’s the wrong thing to do,” I said and deflated his sense of heroism. “You must never, ever touch a gun. That’s a new rule and you must never break it. Ever. Promise me.” And they did promise. But will they remember that promise?
I didn’t tell them that I have touched a real gun, more than once. I’ve loaded live ammo into the chamber and pulled the trigger. And when my shots got more and more accurate, I loaded it faster and actually enjoyed myself.
Pistols and Pink
The Millvale Sportsman Club here in Pittsburgh, PA offers Pistols and Pink, a unique event only for women who want to know more about guns and shooting sports.
Kathleen Kuznicki, a lawyer and one of the co-creators of Pistols and Pink told me about this event last year and I dismissed it as frivolous and vaguely sexist. Her concept was to invite local women she met at networking events to shoot pistols at a target range and then support women-owned businesses by buying cosmetics or jewelry. I thought it was disingenuous. Guns are not snazzy accessories.
“When I tell women that I shoot I hear these types of responses: ‘I have only ever shot with (insert male relation)’ or ‘We have guns in house, I have never shot a gun, but I feel I should learn how to use them’ or ‘I never wanted guns in house before, but now I am thinking it might be a good idea for home safety, and I want to learn how to use a gun,’” said Kathleen. My friend Sarah is clearly one of the women Kathleen hoped to reach.
Kathleen trained four of us the night I went, all mothers. The clubhouse bore the usual trappings of the hunter lifestyle, stuffed animals (not the kind we win at carnivals) and an empty bar waiting patiently for regulars to slide elbows and backsides into familiar grooves. Wood panelling, the hint of tobacco and no pink anywhere.
|Squeeze, don't pull.|
The biggest danger to kids from guns is the ones in their own homes.According to a study published in Pediatrics there are 1.7 million children under age 18 with loaded and unsecured guns in their homes. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics' (AAP) Council on Injury, Violence, and Poison Prevention nearly 40 percent of gun-owning households with children have an unlocked gun. The biggest danger to kids from guns is the ones in their own homes. And I'm not ready to let my children play hide and seek in one of those homes.
“I don’t want someone coming into my home and licensing my ability to own a gun or tell me if I’m storing it correctly.”
I came away not with some solution to gun control, but the knowledge that gun owners don't always lock up their guns. So after my talk with Kathleen, I decided I just couldn't allow my children to be in a home with a gun. I would rather risk their social standing, and whether other parents 'liked' me or not, than their safety.
My boys hopped out of the car and ran inside the house screaming with delight to see their friends. Standing on the front porch I took a deep breath and said, “This may seem out of the blue, but can I ask if you have guns in your home?”
“No, we don’t,” answered the dad. “I had a gun but got rid of it. Good idea to ask. You can never be too safe.”