Do you have a gun?
This is one of the things I ask before my kid goes to anyone’s house for a playdate for the first time. I’ll send it in an email usually, although sometimes in an overworked text. After two blathering paragraphs about the kids or school or crockpots, I just sort of blurt it out: “Do you have a gun? And if so, do you have it in a lockbox?” (Would you eat it with a fox? In the rain? On a train?)
I didn’t grow up with a gun in the house, but my husband did; his father was a police officer. And I’m here to tell you, my father-in-law may not have always locked his service gun away when he was done with it. My sense is that not everyone does.
I’m not sure why it bothers me to ask, why it feels too forward, too opinionated. You get to have your gun and keep it wherever you want. I get it; the Constitution says so. And so it’s an email I word and reword again.
One of my kids went home with the kid of a teacher from their school. “Do you have a gun?” I asked anyway. I could almost hear his bark of laughter as he crafted his witty response. Then another one of my kids went on a playdate to a house where the father is a police officer. At least then I was able to say, “I ask this all the time! Hahahaha. Ha. Heh…” because I do. “Do you have a gun? Do you keep it locked away safely?”
We don’t have toy guns in our house (except for the remote control for a zombie robot that their grandmother bought them, because mothers-in-law). When my kids ask why I don’t buy them a Nerf gun or an automatic squirter water gun, I tell them I’m not into guns in our house. I say that I believe that guns aren’t made for playing. In fact, as far as I can tell, they’re mostly made for killing things.
I explained that some people need a rifle so that they can shoot the food that they eat, and some people need guns for their livelihood, like if they are police officers or in the military. Even these relationships I find really complicated for everyone involved. But guns definitely aren’t for kids, and you don’t need to hold a pretend weapon to pretend to kill your brother or sister or friend.
“Mama, we have pretend fireman hats and swords for knights.”
“But no one has gone into a school and killed 20 children with a fireman’s hose or a sword. At least not as far as I know.” This basically ends the conversation. There’s no trumping that, Second Amendment or otherwise. Even a 7-year-old gets that.
One new friend told me she laughed so hard when she opened my gun safety email. She’s a recent immigrant from England, and it seemed so American, so very ridiculous, so of our times. Most police officers in Britain don’t even carry guns, she told me. My friend said she shared the email with some of her friends from home. Just to show them that she’s acclimating and making “normal” American friends. A friend from Canada said the same thing. “Guns. So American. So absurd.” But they understood. Because they live here now too.
No one has ever hesitated to answer. Even gun owners get it. Kids, guns — these two words couldn’t possibly even belong in the same sentence. If parents struggled to answer, I guess perhaps I’d suggest we meet in a neutral place for a playdate, like a well-lit playground, and let’s keep our hands where we can see them, okay?
Strangely, no one has ever asked me if we keep guns in the house or even what their kid will be doing in my backyard for three hours during a playdate. (Eating wild raspberries, chasing each other, and getting ticks appears to be the usual answer.) I believe in giving my kids some good old-fashioned freedom, to break their arms climbing trees or to get stung by a hive of bees, to run and play, to build things and knock things down, to dress up and imagine themselves in a million different futures. I can’t protect my children from every single injury, I know.
I could ask the parents if they have any sexual predators in their home or if the kids will be watching violent television the whole time. I could ask about old prescription medications shoved to the back of the medicine cabinet, or porn on their computers, or if they’ve checked their water for lead, or their dog for rabies, or their mosquitoes for the Zika virus.
Maybe that all goes without saying, right? Or maybe the gun safety thing is a nice little ice-breaker for all the ways we can be mindful of the wonder and fragility of our kids’ beautiful lives.
Thus, it will go like this:
I’ll be back in two hours. No allergies. Here’s sunscreen and a loaf of fresh-baked banana bread. And also, do you have a gun in your house? If so, is it securely locked up?
Because you have to draw the line somewhere, and this Mama has drawn her line here.