Ask Scary Mommy is Scary Mommy’s new advice column, where our team of “experts” answers all the questions you have about life, love, body image, friends, parenting, and anything else that’s confusing you.
This week… what do you do when your kid wants to play at friends’ houses, but you’re concerned about gun safety? Should you bring it up to the other parents — and how? Have your own questions? Email email@example.com
Dear Scary Mommy,
My son is at an age where he’s started getting invited for drop-off play dates and sleepovers at his friends’ houses. He really wants to go, and I would love to say yes, but one of my biggest fears is that he’ll end up in a place where there are unsecured guns. Tragedies happen every day and I don’t want to risk that with my child. But I don’t know how to bring it up without seeming like some sort of overprotective helicopter mom, or offending the other family because of my lack of trust. Help!
My grandmother didn’t see her son get shot, but she heard it. It happened at the gas station right across the street from their home, where her 15-year-old had gone to see his friend who had just started a cashier job. The friend was showing him the gun that was kept under the counter in case of emergencies, and it went off. My grandma was sitting on the porch, barefoot, and didn’t even bother to put her shoes on while she rode with her son in the back of an ambulance, but even without those few seconds it was too late; he bled out from a hole in his abdomen, put there by his best friend in a horrifying tragedy. And these kids were teenagers. What happens when an eight-year-old has access (or can gain access) to a gun? Or a five-year-old?
Bottom line: Your child’s safety is the number one most important consideration. Above your own discomfort, above the other parents’ possible indignation or judgment.
A 2018 study in the Journal of Urban Health reported that 4.7 million children live in homes where guns are unsecured and loaded.
According to the Giffords Law Center, “The majority of unintentional shooting deaths involve people under 24, who are most often shot by someone else, usually someone their own age.” It isn’t because these kids are inherently evil — it’s because they have access to a gun and want to show their friend this “cool” thing.
And this is what you want to keep in the forefront of your brain when you prepare to broach the subject with other parents. Regardless of the awkwardness anyone may feel, you’re doing this not only for your child, but for the child who might be the one to accidentally shoot a friend; think of how much it would impact them, and their family, as well!
You don’t have to make it a big deal. Just be upfront and honest, saying something like, “I know this may be catch you off guard, but do you keep guns in your home? My kid is curious and I want to make sure he’s not going to have access to unsecured firearms. ”
Or this: “I always have to ask — are there guns in your home? If so, how are they stored?”
You can email or text if it feels less awkward or on-the-spot, but keep in mind that sometimes tone can be easy to misinterpret when it’s in writing.
As a side note, it’s also important to teach your kids what to do in the event that a friend gets their hands on an unsecured firearm: not to hold or even touch it, and to leave the room and tell an adult. But this isn’t enough, by any means. You need to talk to the adults too.
If the other parent says that they have guns, but they’re “hidden,” you definitely want to think twice and say no, thanks. A 2006 study by Harvard University School of Public Health and San Francisco General Hospital revealed that 30% of parents surveyed felt that their guns were safely hidden from their kids — but among the children of those same parents, four in ten knew how to access them, so a locked gun cabinet or safe is vastly preferable. If you’re still not completely comfortable with the way their guns are stored, you could request that they remove the ammo while your child is visiting … or offer up your house, where you know the children are safe, as an alternative play date locale.
Don’t worry about being seen as impolite. These people are parents too, after all, and if there’s one thing parents can unite over it’s the fear of something tragic happening to our kids. If your child had a severe food allergy, you would bring that up without hesitation, because it’s a matter of life and death. So, too, are unsecured guns.
It’s a harder topic to bring up because guns are such a politically-charged, hot button issue, but at the end of the day you’re not asking to judge other parents’ choices or political leanings — only to ensure your child’s safety. I can confidently say that in my personal experience, parents have always been kind and receptive to my gun inquiry, and in many cases even thank me for asking. They’re overwhelmingly understanding. And if it turns out that they aren’t, well, maybe you don’t want your kid to play at their house anyway.
Have your own question? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
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