Tough Questions: Playdates/Sleepovers and Guns in the House-Do You Ask?

tough questionsBefore I write anything else, let me preface this by saying this isn't a political post, this isn't to stir up a debate about gun control, this is strictly one mom asking other moms: "What do you do?".

That being said, I am a documentary junkie. I will watch anything, I devour them. I just love watching about other people's lives, other people's experiences, about history, about big things, little things, anything really. Today in the background as I got my morning work out of the way I watched a documentary on HBO called 5 American Kids - 5 American Handguns featuring five different families who lost a family member because of guns, and like most of the documentaries I watch, it got me thinking.

It reminded me of a local story from 2010, where a seventh-grader at Maple Avenue Middle School here in Saratoga Springs was shot in the head by his friend while playing with a handgun belonging to his father in their Gansevoort home. Apparently the boy had gotten his father's handgun from another room and was playing with it, not knowing that the weapon was loaded, when it went off, and his friend was killed.

Federal data from the Centers for Disease Control indicate that between 2007 and 2011, an average of 62 children age 14 and under were accidentally shot and killed each year. From December 2012 to December 2013, at least 100 children were killed in unintentional shootings. About two-thirds of these unintended deaths — 65 percent — took place in a home or vehicle that belonged to the victim’s family, most often with guns that were legally owned but not secured. Between 2001 and 2010, 7,766 children under the age of 14 suffered accidental firearms injuries - about one injury for every million children.

But statistics don't matter much if it's your child that's shot, and some parents suggest making the gun question as common as asking about food allergies, swimming pools and video game limits.

So I want to know, is this something you think about as a mom that lets their child go on playdates or sleepovers? Is this something you would feel comfortable about asking other parents? Is it something you feel isn't necessary, or is highly necessary, to ask?

If, like me, you are considering adding this to the list of more "normal" questions to ask before letting your child go to a playdate or a sleepover, here are some tips on how to have this potentially difficult or awkward conversation:

  • Break the ice by bringing up other safety issues, like whether or not your child has food allergies or if she's scared of dogs. Then say, "This may sound odd, but it's a safety issue - do you guys have any guns in your home?". Don't make gun safety a bigger deal than, say, pool safety or food allergies, but do make sure to clearly cover it.
  • Don't worry about offending other parents, and don't make judgments. If parents get defensive, you can defuse the situation by saying, "I respect your stance and it's not about that. Can you just reassure me of your storage practices?". Keep in mind, you're asking a safety question and you can ask in a peaceful, diplomatic way. And if someone does get upset, then that's a red flag.

  • If you are the host, you can break the ice yourself by telling parents whether or not you have guns in your home and what your safety precautions are. Similarly, if you are bringing it up with another parent, you can proactively mention safety in your home (and whether or not you have guns) to get the conversation going. You can also couch the question around the topic of general safety, saying something like "My son/daughter and I have been talking a lot about home safety lately and I wanted to ask you about your house. Do you have dogs? Do you have guns?”.
  • Have the conversation when kids aren't around, but make sure to teach kids about gun safety regardless, a child as young as 3 years old has the finger strength to pull a trigger. Some safety tips to teach children include:

    • If they or a friend finds a gun, tell them to stop what they're doing
    • do not touch the gun
    • leave the area where the gun is
    • tell an adult right away

Use me as the scapegoat, tell the host you read about gun safety here and you were just curious and wanted to make it an open topic for discussion. While we don't want to offend fellow parents, if you are discussing it in an open, respectful, non-judgmental way, it shouldn't be a hot button issue, and the focus should always be on safety for kids.