Playing with Guns

I have had a hard time writing since the incident in Newtown.  I was supposed to post about the Gingerbread house competition. That was supposed to happen right after that event.  The last thing I was going to do was post about that and bother people to vote when, obviously, my heart and others were in another world.

Having a play date over today reminded me of that event.  You see, after it happened there was a conversation on the playground about play dates and homes with guns.  It had dawned on both of us that never once have we asked a playdate house:

“Are there guns in your house”

The incident in Newtown was tragic.  Terrible.  But.  The odds of my children encountering a weapon at someone’s house outweigh that incident happening at their schools.

And yet, I have never asked.

My child had been to this woman’s house and hers to mine.  We exchanged polite and yet clear:

“We do not have guns in our house”

And now we know.

But that is just one family.  What about the others.  I have 2 kids who often frequent other people’s houses.  I know most of the families in the typical way that you might know a school aged child’s parents.  You see them at school drop off or pick up.  You exchange typical conversations about weather, school projects, sports, local events.

Never in my 10 years of having children have owning guns come up.

I am not a gun owner and I’m not saying that if a house did have a gun I would not let my children play there, but it opens the conversation to “How are the guns locked up?”

Do I request to see how they are locked up?

And what if they say they aren’t?

I have the right to not have my child at anyone’s house that I feel might be unsafe.  Just like they can choose to not have their child at my house because I don’t have an armed weapon for safety.

These are choices.  We all have them.

I have decided that if we have over play dates, even if they don’t ask, I will inform the parents that we do not have guns in our home.

These conversations needs to start.

These conversations need to start at home.

Please join me.

35 thoughts on “Playing with Guns

  1. Hey! I never thought about it…glad to have read your post! Yes, you have full right not have your child at anyone’s house that you feel might be unsafe. Want to know what are your thoughts about airsoft guns? Do you consider them unsafe?

  2. When the girl was small – in preschool – she had made friends with one girl who came over and whose house she visited. After a few back and forth interactions, the mom and I were chatting and, in the course of the conversation, I jokingly said, “Well, it’s not like you have a gun in your house.” Except she did. And while I was grateful that she told me, I was kind of pissed that it took me making a joke for that to come up. Because it was so outside the realm of what I thought was possible.

    We continued to invite the girl’s friend over, but she didn’t visit there after that. The mom was fine about it, but it still terrified me. Not only because the girl had been in a house with a gun [which, according to the mom, was properly secured, etc.] but because it completely fucked my view of people.

    Keep asking, and keep offering. It’s imperative.

  3. Wow, I would never have thought to ask this. I know I have quite a long time before my little guy starts going on play dates without me but I’m keeping this in my mind to make sure it’s something I ask when the time comes.

  4. Here in Phoenix Sheriff Joe has made everyone feel just wonderful by placing citizens armed with semi-automatic handguns in front of as many schools as possible because we know the solution to this problem is super simple – more guns. I digress. Jen, thank you for having the conviction to post this. Thank you for sparking a discussion and thank you for the reminder that there are simple things we can do as parents to try to avoid unnecessary tragedies.

  5. This is an important post about a topic that’s on everyone’s mind right now after Newtown. How do we keep our kids safe in such an uncertain world? The more we think about it, the more we realize threats can be anywhere–even at well-intentioned friends’ houses. I live in an area where gun ownership is common, so I would be foolish to assume that any house my kids visit is gun-free.

    But while it sounds like a no-brainer to ask this question prior to a playdate, interviewing parents before you’ll let your kid play at their house is easier said than done.

    I wrote a post almost a year ago about asking your kid’s friend’s parents about guns before allowing them to on a playdate, and it sparked a fascinating discussion in the comments. A mom who had been asked and was put off by the question began and others, including gun owners and enthusiasts, weighed in and explored different aspects of the question. The link is here if anyone is interested:

    I have talked to my kids (11 and 7) about guns on numerous occasions, and I will continue to do so. I quiz them about hypothetical situations. We talk about all manner of safety issues, and guns are definitely included in the roster.

  6. I do, and have ever since we moved to Northern VA after living in California. There are a lot of military families here, and we know many who are in the FBI or another agency where they carry firearms, so it’s more likely than not. And we’ve talked to our three kids about what they should do if they’re at someone’s home and see a gun.

  7. Pingback: Mom-In-A-Million - New on Babble: Ask and Tell: How Do You Talk About Guns Before Playdates?

  8. I never thought to ask that question, holy shit. Honestly. We don’t keep a gun (but we have BIG huge bulldogs in case any thieving types are reading this comment) and I just didn’t think to ask my friends if they do. And now, we need to ask those questions. Just so we can be aware and informed. I absolutely hate that our society is now talking about armed guards at schools. Makes me so sick.

  9. Thank you for writing about this. You are right, we need to talk more about the statistics – that household accidents, domestic disputes, or suicide are more likely to occur from household guns than a self-defense situation.

    Also, I’d still like to see your gingerbread house – maybe a spring theme …?

  10. I agree strongly that these are important questions to ask, I would not be comfortable with a child in a house with unlocked guns and ammo. Because I know that eventually they will find them. As in all things however education is also important. If you don’t teach your children about guns, someone else will. Children should be taught gun safety because we will not always have control over where they go and what they encounter. The best we can do is give them knowledge to guide their choices when that happens.

    Thank you for this post and starting this conversation.

    • Same page. Guns don’t kill people. Uneducated, evil, or stupid people do. Don’t be stupid and leave guns out in the open for kids to get into. Practice proper gun storage and safety. Don’t be stupid and own guns without acquiring the proper knowledge to own them safely. Don’t be stupid and not educate your children of the dangers of handling such a weapon. I have guns at home, as well as small children. I have recently told my 5 year old that we have a gun in the house. He’s never seen it, though. When he’s old enough to hold it, he’ll learn to shoot it. We need good citizens to own guns, because if they take our rights to own them the only people that will own them are cops, the government and criminals. Unfortunately, they are often all one in the same…

  11. I don’t have guns in my home but my parents do. Since I was a kid there have been hunting rifles in a locked cabinet. I am okay with this knowing that they are properly secured but who knows if others are following the same precautions in their own homes. Definitely something that should be asked. Great post!

  12. I have been asking this question since we started having play dates. I also ask who will be in the house. I am also deeply affected by every episode of 20/20 I have ever seen. Sleepovers are going to start soon & I am sick to my stomach.

    • Who will be in the house is a good one especially since family dynamics have become so complex. Sometimes I wonder how my mom handled playdates and sleep overs and then I remember – we didn’t have them. We played outside and then went inside and went to bed. That’s why we feel crazy, our kids are having “social lives” and they are just kids!

  13. Such and important post and conversation. I know none of my friends with kids own guns, but now that Joseph is starting to go to playdates with school friends, I think it’s important to have the conversation with other parents. And even more important to have the conversation with my kids. I’ve told them if anyone every picks up a gun, they’re to run and get a grown up immediately, no matter what. But will that stick in their minds? It worries me.

  14. I’m so glad you made this point. How easy it is for us to overlook or forget about these things when we send our kids to a friend’s house. I’ve never felt they were unsafe at someone’s house (I’m always there too because they’re young), but I can’t imagine hearing a gunshot and realizing that something tragic happened that could have been prevented. Thank you for starting this conversation.

  15. This is a fantastic post. And not something I ever felt the need to ask when my boys were little but definitely would if they still were. Ugh. It’s so sad what the world has come to but this is indeed such an important conversation to have, even if it’s uncomfortable. Nice job.

    P.S. Miss you. I need a Jen fix.

  16. My children, as I did growing up, will know the number one rule and that its not okay to play with guns. If they happen to forget the rule, it won’t matter as any guns in the house are always locked away and unloaded. I wouldn’t want my kids in the house of anyone that felt or acted differently. Regardless of what my kids know about the potential dangers, I’ll assume your kids don’t know and it’s my responsiblity to protect them against themselves and keep them as safe as my own.

    But for me, the more important conversation to have is with my kids. My main jobs as their dad are to make sure they grow old and teach right form wrong (the two tend to tie together.) I can query the neighbors all I want about the overall safety features of their homes and make judgements accordingly, and I will, but only to a point. Lord willing, kids grow up and eventually find themselves in places their parents can’t control – school, the playground, a rave. I can only hope by then that I have done everything I can to let them make decisions for themselves and whether that’s what to do with a flat tire, or get an email from a Nigerian “prince,” or find the hand gun under Billy’s dad’s pillow, that they will know what to do.

    So feel free to ask neighbor, I won’t mind. But I may ask if you have any Tide Pods or unsupervised internet access in your house too.

  17. We have guns in our house. They are locked up, high up where only my 7 ft tall husband can get them and the keys. I am scared of guns. I don’t like them but I know for him it is safety. He is former military and has a license for the guns and to carry. I made him get the license because the area where he works is not the safest place sometimes and I worry for his safety.
    But still I don’t like them, I am scared of them. And now I will be asking if there are guns in the house when my children go on playdates.

  18. We had to have this conversation with my in-laws. They love to have our boys stay overnight, but when we found out that they didn’t lock up their guns, we freaked. The boys weren’t allowed to stay overnight until they got a safe (when we go over to their house as a family, the kids don’t go where the guns are stored). It wasn’t a fun conversation and there was a lot of pushback, but it was important to us.

  19. I mentioned on Facebook that I’ve written about this before. I’ll put the link below if anyone wants to read it. Gun safety is a HUGE issue to me, and to every other responsible gun owner I know. The key there is the word responsible. One in three homes have guns. You must ask. I promise that we won’t be offended. But beyond asking, you need to teach your children about gun safety whether you own a gun or not. Kids are going to be exposed. Whether it be through TV, video games, or their friends. They need to know the rules about guns. Never, ever touch, always get an adult, etc. Don’t assume because you don’t have one that they will be safe.

  20. I don’t have children of my own, but there are a lot of kids in my life whom I love. Two of them are my neighbors. And they’re boys. They shoot hunting rifles and have been taught gun safety. But if I had kids, I wouldn’t feel comfortable with them in the vicinity as two young (early teenage) boys wielding high power rifles. And I would hope that the parents of those boys would inform me of any chance that those guns would be exposed.

    I feel it necessary to inform my neighbors when we will be having target practice at our house. They, however, just let us figure it out when we hear the explosion.

    It’s too important to ignore. Communication is key.

  21. Feels crazy that I have never asked or even thought to ask- but you’re right!

    Not making light of it, but didnt we all see the 90210 episode with Scott? That is a scary reality that has really been around forever- unfortunately. People keep guns in their homes and sometimes, not locked. It is something we as parents should know and be transparent about.

    It’s just such a hard thing to ask or bring up without it seeming a bit awkward. :/

  22. I’m writing this as a gun-owner, but not as a parent. We have guns in our house, but we have a huge gun safe that is locked every hour of the day in our living room. We have a locked gun cabinet downstairs. People in WV generally have guns. My older students know they’re not a joke, but what worries me is the “Airsoft wars” they talk about. The parents of these children are allowing them to run around in the woods and shoot each other with airsoft guns…which are NOT soft impact. It’s important to know where your guns are and how they are stored. When our friends with kids come over we make sure we scour our house and are sure to pack up our concealed carry weapons, as well.

    It is a conversation people need to have, but it wouldn’t be fair to tell a kid they can’t go to their friends house if their parents do own the gun. Yeah, it’s uncomfortable to ask, but I’d rather someone ask than think their child is in danger.

  23. I have 4 kids and like you, have never asked about guns. We DO have guns in our home. My husband is a hunter. Ours are locked up, ammunition locked up separately. This is how I was raised, as the daughter of a police officer. I have always taken for granted others are as responsible with their firearms as we are. I have been wrong, I will ask now, I will offer up our safety information, and it will probably make people angry and upset. I don’t care. Thanks for writing this!

  24. My kids aren’t school aged yet so play dates where I’m not there haven’t happened yet, however when they do, I will be asking this question. And it’s not because I’m anti-gun, as a matter of fact, we own a number of guns, but I want to make sure that even though we teach our girls about gun safety at every opportunity that arises, there are parents out there that do not take the same precautions. I hope asking these kinds of questions become more of the norm and that there’s not a lot of awkwardness associated with it.

  25. It’s a tricky situation. I haven’t personally asked anyone because we don’t have play dates at people’s houses yet. We mostly meet at parks. I do agree with what Miranda said about there being a time and a place for handling guns and that’s not in a home. That is a great line and one I plan on borrowing.

    I mostly knew which of the houses growing up might have guns (it was mostly occupationally as SoCal isn’t really know for it’s hunting.) We knew that if we played at the cop’s daughter’s house there was probably a gun there somewhere and never asked about it.

  26. Jen-
    Hooray! I think it’s great that you’re having these discussions with other parents. For your information, under Mass. law it’s illegal to keep a firearm unlocked – even in your own home. Illinois gun laws are more strict than Massachusetts so I’m guessing there is the same requirement there. Of course you are right to ask and not to assume.
    I also think it’s important to talk to your kids about guns. Not in a scary way but just in a, “Hey, I know WE don’t have guns in our home, but other people do. And if you ever see a gun, you should NEVER, EVER touch it. You should tell a grownup. And you should tell your friends not to touch it.”
    I know the guns in my house are locked – my kids aren’t going to “find” a gun at home. But I don’t know what they’ll find elsewhere so as far as I’m concerned it’s like teaching my kids to swim or not to talk to strangers – it’s a safety issue and I want them to know what to do if they ever find themselves in that situation.

  27. I completely agree with you that this is a conversation that needs to happen. HAS to happen. I want to know that my children are safe when the visit their friends’ homes and while I don’t want to grill other mothers before we our kids play, I want to know that if they are gun owners, they are responsible, meaning their guns are locked up separately from their ammunition. But that’s not exactly natural in the course of conversation, right?

    When I say we have no guns here, I mean not even the toy variety. (With all the myriad toys on the market, there’s no reason for my kids to play with toy guns.) I think one of the ways we protect our kids is to teach them that guns are dangerous. But even that feels insufficient and incorrect. Guns by themselves are benign, so I guess I want him to know that there’s a time and a place for handling a gun and that’s not at anyone’s home.

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