Should Parents Ask Other Parents About Guns in the Home?

These days, it's starting to seem like an urgent question

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The other day, the father of a classmate of my son’s called to ask if he could join a group of fourth-grade boys practicing a comedy sketch for their school’s talent show. Like any parent coordinating a child’s schedule, I asked the basics: What time? Where do you live? When should I pick him up? Then I stammered out a final question, apologizing in advance for its personal nature: Do you keep guns in your home?

Long pause. “No,” he replied, “but it’s a valid question.”

The events of the past few days only reinforce the need to ask these questions. Last week, 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.

(MORE: Kids and Guns: Why Doctors Have a Right to Know)

I’m angry too. But I’m also proactive, which is why I never fail to ask the question of any parent who invites one of my kids over. I got the idea from a gun-safety rally I covered years ago, long before I even had kids. The advice sounded sage, if a bit discomfiting. It never fails to elicit a moment of stunned silence, but I’ve long since made peace with the awkwardness of asking.

After all, when sending our kids over to someone else’s house, we make sure that the host parents have the appropriate car seats or boosters so that our children are safe on the road. If our kids have allergies, we let the host parents know. Recently, when my daughter invited a pal who has a peanut allergy to spend the night, her friend’s father dropped the girl off with a sleeping bag, a toothbrush and an EpiPen — just in case.

The likelihood that we’d accidentally feed the friend something with peanuts was slim, given our knowledge of her allergy. But her dad was doing due diligence. Shouldn’t we do the same when it comes to guns and kids?

(MORE: The Next Gun Control Battle: A Right to Carry Firearms in Public)

For the record, the question I lob at parents of my kids’ friends is not a disqualifier. It shouldn’t cause the sort of controversy that bubbled up around a Missouri bill requiring parents to notify a child’s school that they own a firearm. It’s not meant to shame them or serve as a public name-check of the sort that transpired in December when The Journal News in New York’s Lower Hudson Valley published the names and addresses of pistol permit holders licensed by Westchester and Rockland counties.

It’s simply intended to get moms and dads thinking about how they store weapons in their home. We can preach to our own kids about gun safety and how to act around guns, but if their friends don’t have the same rules in place at their homes, all the preaching in the world won’t do any good.

Maybe it’s the company my kids keep — or maybe fellow parents aren’t being truthful — but I’ve had only one parent cop to having guns in her home. Even that mom — our daughters are in the same kindergarten class — seemed so taken aback by my question that she initially said no. Within a millisecond, once what I’d asked had sunk in, she quickly changed to “yes,” followed by an unprompted: “We keep them locked in a safe.”

That’s all I wanted to know before I sent my 5-year-old daughter over to create sticker art.

32 comments
kate1song
kate1song

I have a acquaintance with a boy my son's age. They have a couple guns that they keep in unlocked cases under the bed. She made the  comment to me "my son knows how to handle a gun, he's been trained" Her son is 10. My son will never be going over to her house... 

techweenie
techweenie

Gun enthusiasts fall into two categories: the larger category that respects the destructive power of the weapon, and the fearful gun grasping zealot (many of whom posted here in clear denial of empirical evidence). 

For anyone who buys into the notion that the examples given by the author are rarer than lightning strikes, note that 366 children in the US have been killed by guns since Newtown. 

DaveMonachello
DaveMonachello

We do ask this question of the parents before we let the kids go to another kids house. In one case the father actually said "yeah we have one around somewhere. I'm not sure where it is."!!! The issue then wasn't if we should lt the kids play there - it was if we should call the police to protect the rest of their family.

jefnvk
jefnvk

If it is part of a larger discussion about how the home is run, i.e., parental supervision, access to tobacco or alcohol, making sure poisonous substances are out of young children's reach, pool gates are locked, ATV aren't used, etc., it is a valid question.


If it is the only question along the lines of safety, it is not appropriate.  Too many want to focus on the big and scary problems, while not focusing on the far more likely situations.  If guns are the only thing you are asking about, it shows a much bigger issue at hand, being so focused on one very unlikely issue that you ignore the others.

Much in the same way, when/if I have kids, I want to know how schools are going to protect them from sexual predator teachers, bullying, etc., things that happen on a far more common basis than a random shooting.

EdwardLowrey
EdwardLowrey

If you are that paranoid, keep your kid at home. Speaking of which, did that gun safety rally you attend also mention that you should have a discussion with your children about guns. Did they tell you how to teach your children about the hazzards of firearms? Are was it a gun safety rally that promoted more gun laws. Hey, maybe you can find a portable lie detector test machine and have all you kids friend's parent take one. After all that would just be proactive right? Who could complain about that?

SarahConfran
SarahConfran

when I am a parent I will not allow my child to be in a home with a fire-arm until they are at least 10. Accidents happen and I would not want my child to accidentally shoot someone or be shot. Parents are offended? Tough luck, the 4 year old who shot dead a woman got their hands on a gun because a POLICE OFFICER (someone who is required to be trained on gun safety unlike civilians) left the gun unintended so it could happen with parents less trained. 

icepuck68
icepuck68

If you're going to go as far as the gun, how can you stop there? 

1. Will your counter top be clear of kitchen knives?

2. Are you cabinets child proof?

3. Will your car keys be out of the reach of the children?

4. If you have a pool, will it be blocked from the children?

5. Will all alcohol be locked away?

BTW, will you sign these legal papers claiming that you have full responsibility of my child at all times? Thank you.

Elvisfofana
Elvisfofana

If you live in the US where politicians do not have the guts to forbid firearms for civilians, it is your duty as a parent to be sure that your child resides in a safe environment, so yes : you must ask the question. I am so glad that I live in a country where this question is obsolete. Civilians having firearms is just wrong. We have seen an enormous decrease of casualties by firearms since our weapons laws have become a lot stricter. The United States are still very young as a nation and they want to act as "the leaders of the free world", well I tell you this from a European perspective where we consider ourselves free and not under US leadership, in our perspective, the US are acting like a spoiled immature child who does not want to give up his toys in order to become a grown person.

Aussie64
Aussie64

Fortunately, this is a question we don't have to ask, here in Australia. There have been no mass shootings in Australia since 1996 when a lone gunman murdered 36 men, women and children at Port Arthur in Tasmania. The Aust. Government had the guts to ban assault weapons, demand that all other guns be registered and restricted ownership of concealable weapons to registered members of gun clubs, and they have to leave the guns locked up at the club. It is illegal to have concealed weapons in your car, your home or on your person. I have been following the gun control debate in the US, with interest. (I am formerly from Portland Oregon and vote in the US, for all who might comment that people from overseas should mind their own business). And, I know, I know, criminals still get guns, even here, but they tend to shoot each other rather than innocent people. If you live on the land and/or hunt, you can have a long gun legally, as long as it is registered. Gun ownership is not common here. In fact, there is another gun amnesty on here in Queensland, at the moment. You can hand in or register you run, no questions asked. This is done on a regular basis. The US government isn't going to take away everyone's guns. This is part of the paranoia being spread by the NRA.

I have three gkids, 7, 5and 3. I sit them two days a week. Their parents and grandparents do ascertain whether or not the friends they may visit are allowed to play violent video games.

schroeder.cary
schroeder.cary

No, but you should get to know the parents before you let your kid stay at there house.

Higg's_Bosom
Higg's_Bosom

It's not meant to shame? "Cop" is an idiom for admitting guilt.

mi96romeo
mi96romeo

I'm not sure it's your business to know if someone does or doesn't have a gun in their home.  You don't ask about kitchen knives which are just as dangerous do you?  You also don't intrude upon the details of their medical matters. I do think a safe and secure environment is an important and reasonable request so I do agree that parents should mitigate the chances that a child can get hold of a firearm.  

Maybe a better way to handle this is to say "It is not my intent to invade your privacy but I am concerned about gun safety because <insert reason here>.  If you have firearms in your home then can you please be certain these are secured and inaccessible to children?"  You allow the homeowner his/her privacy and give him/her the opportunity create a safe environment w/o sticking your nose head deep into someone else's privacy.

It might not be your intent to shame/disqualify parents based on ownership of a firearm but your question is intrusive and could come across to the recipient as rude.

mlayton
mlayton

There seems to be a big difference between asking the parents and the school asking all parents In the first case you ave a definite interest in knowing the answer to that question, and if a parent doesn't want to answer it doesn't cost their kid a fundamental social good (they lose out on a playdate, not an education). The school has no real need to know whether her students have guns in the house because first, that doesn't affect school employees' safety directly, and two, there's nothing they can do about it if the parent answers yes.

A better analogy, IMO, is the bill proposed in Kansas that would prohibit doctors from asking about guns in the home. These are professionals we enlist to warn us about risks to our health, and guns are easily as fatal as obesity or cigarettes. 

Garzhad
Garzhad

It's a reasonable thing for a parent to ask if they are sending their child there at any rate, to know if they are stored properly to prevent accidents, but not a teacher or school official. It's too easy for an answer in the affirmative to an official to turn into discrimination against the child later on down the line simply due to the fact their parents own a gun. I can almost guarantee you that they will watch said child intensely and single them out more then children who's parents said 'no', solely because their parents own a gun.

ChrisKing
ChrisKing

@Smiles909 - A teacher has NO business asking about guns in a household. Too many knee jerk reactionaries  out these to respond with any common sense. IF a parent wants to ask me fine, I will answer. Don't send your kid in to do the dirty work a parent is responsible for.

Smiles909
Smiles909

You do not know if the father of your son's class-mate is answer the truth.!  Why not make your son ask his class-mate about guns in their house ?  A son does NOT think, and answers truthfully !  Even the teacher in the class can ask the students, if there is a gun in their houses.  Even a 25% correct response, is good to warrant a serious thinking for protection...!

artsyalexis
artsyalexis

@kate1song Good for you! I wouldn't let them go either. I could just imagine the little boy wanting to innocently show it off and not know the danger he could be putting himself or his friends in. It's a scary thought and very concerning to hear that they keep them unlocked!

artsyalexis
artsyalexis

@jefnvk 30 children die every year from poisoning (http://www.chop.edu/service/poison-control-center/resources-for-families/preventing-poisonings-from-medicines-household-chemicals-pesticides-and-lead.html), tobacco use (though concerning) is not a quick death such as a bullet, I do agree on pools though as 30% of child deaths are a result of drowning. Always ask about a pool.

As for everything else (sexual predators, bullying) you can only prevent it by keeping your child locked up.

Ask any woman or man if they had "that" kind of teacher who flirted with them or any child if they were ever bullied. It would be a miracle if one of them said no.

That being said, I would always ask about a gun. If it is something I can prevent, I will ask about it. It's rather unfair to turn a negative hand over to those just wanting to protect their children, don't you think?

oelric
oelric

@jefnvk Absolutely! If this is the only safety factor a parent is considering, it's a rather myopic concern and one driven by an extremely unlikely scenario. I guess the author really needs to a look at the relevancy of her own concerns and formulate many other questions.

ToulaMom
ToulaMom

@EdwardLowreyI don't see how asking about guns is a violation, because (at least for me) I would not stop my child from playing at a house with a gun-owning parent, in the same way that I would not stop her from visiting a friend with a pool. That said, my kid is an okay but not great swimmer, so I would say to a parent, "My child is not allowed to swim without an adult present" (or something). Maybe a more polite way to ask about guns is not to ask, but just state, "I am not sure if you have a gun in the home, but if you do, I have spoken with my child about not playing with guns but I would feel better if you also kept it out of sight while she's visiting." What do you think? 

onewonders
onewonders

@EdwardLowrey@EdwardLowrey - sure 3, 4 and 5 year old should be trained in guns safety.  If the parents teach it and the kids shoot themselves by accident then the parents haven't been diligent in teaching personal responsibility. 

oelric
oelric

@SarahConfran Sure it could. Do those home also have dogs? What breed? How are they treated or trained? Do they lock their cleaning supplies? Do they live on a busy street? Is the front yard fenced? I hate to say it, but all of these factors are much more likely to lead to injury or death than the presence of a firearm.

BrockSamson
BrockSamson

This response is idiotic. Are you really trying to compare a gun to a paring knife or a cabinet? Are you really that far gone from reality? Scary for those around you.

Elvisfofana
Elvisfofana

@icepuck68 : Yes as an answer to all of those questions. Any person who wants to take responsibility over children in the house wether they are his/het own or not should TAKE RESPONSIBILITY over their safety. The list you have started extends to an unlimited amount of things that all point in one direction : make sure that the children are safe.

If you host a children's party and you do not take care of the children's safety : you are irresponsible and should be treated as such. Accidents do happen and you cannot control everything, but if you let kitchen knives on the counter top during a children's party : you are just plain stupid.

jamesf161
jamesf161

I don't think you should worry about Americans who don't want you to comment on their politics. We make these opinions based on our sympathy for people, and our sympathy is just as valid for foreigners as it is for people in your own nation.

wendybergonse
wendybergonse

@Higg's_Bosom I agree that she shouldn't have used the verb "cop to" as it tainted the point she was trying to make. I wonder if it slipped in there consciously or unconsciously.

mlayton
mlayton

@mi96romeo : Oddly enough your question seems more intrusive (and more like a lecture) to me. Perhaps it's the length? I read Bonnie's question as the start of a conversation; the way you frame it seems more likely to be taken as a criticism since you lay out your reasons, and also tries to tell the parent what to do. But it's strange how different things will come across differently to two people - I'm sure you thought it was less intrusive and rude, or else you wouldn't have suggested it!

The bottom line is today, parents are very careful about what dangers their kids are exposed to. If we can ask whether our kid's snacks will have high-fructose corn syrup, surely we can ask whether there is a dangerous weapon in the house. Some dangers like household cleaners and steak-knives are expected, you know they're going to be there, but with others, it's not so clear-cut. Some people have guns, others don't. Some keep them locked up, others don't. It is disheartening to hear that not only do people have a right to own guns (which I'm not disputing) but that I don't have a right to take that fact into consideration when deciding whether to expose a child that's my responsibility into that environment (which I would dispute). Rights, even gun rights, have responsibilities and limits.

artsyalexis
artsyalexis

 @oelric About 19 children were fatally attacked by dogs in America in 2012.  Approximately 30 children die from poisoning each year, 85% of which were in their own homes. About 82 children UNDER 5 were shot and killed in 2010.

No, none of them are close to the amount killed by a firearm. Please get your facts straight before muttering something so ridiculously false.


http://www.dogsbite.org/dog-bite-statistics-fatalities-2012.php

http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/01/16/16547690-just-the-facts-gun-violence-in-america?lite

http://www.chop.edu/service/poison-control-center/resources-for-families/preventing-poisonings-from-medicines-household-chemicals-pesticides-and-lead.html

icepuck68
icepuck68

@BrockSamson 

This is probably a house that her kid has been in numerous times before. How many houses has her child been in already that has a gun? Do you honestly think that she knows every house her kids have been in? Three hundred kids die a year by accidental shootings. Again, that's only three hundred. If you're going to live your life that scared of a gun being in a house, why ignore everything else? There are things that kill children far more than guns out there.


Aussie64
Aussie64

@jamesf161 Thank you, jamesf161. You are exactly right. I do put that 'disclaimer' in, though, because in other forums I have been told to mind my own business because I don't live in USA. . .