Dear Abby Says Asking About Guns In Homes Is ‘Off-Putting’

by Meredith Bland

Mother told to hold play dates in her home instead

Last week, a first-time mom wrote into Dear Abby, an internationally-known advice column that has been around for over 60 years. She asked for advice about gun safety and play dates, and she got some truly terrible advice.

In Dear Abby’s June 21st column, she answered the following letter:

“DEAR ABBY: I am a first-time mom of a toddler. I suffer from (and am being treated for) anxiety issues.

Abby, I am having trouble finding the balance on gun safety and awareness in other people’s homes — especially if my daughter will be visiting. I grew up in a household where my father hunted and had guns in the house. However, he stored them safely in a locked cabinet and was the only one with access to the key. He also stored ammunition separately.

Where do I draw the line? Do I ask everyone whose house I’ll be going to whether or not they have guns? What are the appropriate questions? Do I ask where they are stored and who has access? What else should I ask? Or should I mind my own business? I know the questions won’t be appreciated by everyone because it will seem like I am questioning their judgment.


Dear Abby’s reply stunned gun safety advocates and many parents across the country:

“DEAR FIRST-TIME MOM: If you start asking other parents whether they have guns in their homes and how they store them, your questions may be off-putting. Because you are concerned for your child’s safety, why not offer to have the kids visit your house for playdates? I’m sure many of the parents will be glad to have some free time, and it shouldn’t offend anyone.”

Off-putting? Off-putting?!

It is astonishing that in this day and age, when guns are the third leading cause of death for American children and we hear stories seemingly every other day about children getting access to adult’s guns, that anyone — let alone someone whose job is to give advice — would recommend that a parent be more concerned about not making another parent uncomfortable than about making sure their child is safe.

How are we supposed to be more concerned about “offending” another parent when we read stories about children like Mykah Jackson, a 9-year-old shot and killed by another child on Monday after they were playing with a gun they found in his father’s apartment? Or the 8-year-old who was shot in the arm last week after he and a 6-year-old found a loaded gun in the basement of the 8-year-old’s home? Or the 2-year-old boy who accidentally shot and killed himself on June 20th even though “family members told deputies they weren’t sure how the child reached the weapon, which was normally stored atop a cabinet in the bedroom.”

There’s a list of children killed and injured by guns at the website Gun Violence Archive. They update it constantly — sometimes, multiple times a day.

In 2016, over 3,000 children ages 0-17 were killed or injured by a gun. One of the children killed last year was 14-year-old JaJuan McDowell. His mother, Julvonnia McDowell, wrote an open letter to Dear Abby during the uproar that resulted from that June 21st column. In her letter, she writes: “I am the mother of a victim of gun violence. My 14-year-old son, JaJuan McDowell, was shot and killed by another teen playing with a gun on April 7, 2016, while visiting family in Savannah for spring break. A parent asking that question isn’t being nosey. She’s asking about how to best protect her child and save her child’s life.”

She goes on: “I was at the hospital when I heard the five words that brought me to my knees: ‘He did not make it.’ My heart hurts on this journey and tears often come without warning. His death was a preventable tragedy that I will spend the rest of my life working to see no other family experiences.

Almost two million American children live in homes with guns that are both loaded and unlocked. A study of more than 200 gun-owning families found that 75% of kids knew where their parents kept their guns — even though parents often think they don’t.

For JaJuan, I will not be silent. My voice matters because my kids matter. It is time to shine our own lights on this issue. If you are committed to giving sound advice and promoting a culture of gun safety — as I believe you are — I urge you to educate yourself and update your advice.”

To her credit, the writer behind Dear Abby heard the complaints, listened to what the public told her, and issued a retraction yesterday on Twitter.

“To the large number of readers who disagreed with my answer to ‘First Time Mom In New Jersey’: I have heard you loud and clear,” she wrote. “I should have advised, ‘You are responsible for your child’s welfare. Part of assuring that your daughter will be safe includes asking whether there are weapons on the premises and, if so, what safety precautions have been taken.”

Is it a comfortable question to ask? No. Does that matter? No. If a parent is offended or “put off” by that question, then your child probably shouldn’t be over at their house anyway. In fact, I’d probably encourage my child to find another friend.

You can keep your sense of propriety and your outrage. I’ll keep my child.

(For more information on how to keep kids safe from guns, check out the Be Smart program from Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense In America.)