When My Kids Sleep Out, I Want Them To Come Home Alive

Originally Published: 

You send your kids off to play with friends all the time, maybe even let them spend the night. You expect certain things from sleepovers. Extra screen time, special snacks, giddy exhaustion, unbrushed teeth.

You don’t expect them to be shot. You don’t expect them to die.

What if it happened to your child?

It could …

Someone on my Facebook feed recently reminded me of this story from a few years ago. A young boy went to sleep over at a friend’s house and was killed by a bullet when his friend played with an unsecured handgun kept in the home. There is nothing about the story that isn’t completely horrifying. The ordinariness of a sleepover between friends, the carelessness of leaving guns where kids can get them, the stunning realization that even young teenagers who we all think might know better don’t know better at all. And the fact that one tiny movement of one finger can shatter so many lives by ending one forever.

Stories like these are all too common. I see headlines about kids getting guns and harming themselves, their friends, their siblings, or adults nearly every week. There’s a reality about guns in our country that we as parents must all face: nearly 1 in 3 families with children have guns in the home. If you’re not one of those households yourself, your children will almost inevitably be invited to one of them.

How are you going to handle this? For several years, I’ve been talking and writing about kids and gun safety. I’ve discussed safe gun storage with people all across the gun-rights spectrum and the one thing we all agree on is this: it is the responsibility of adults to protect kids from gaining unauthorized access to guns. You can – and should – talk to kids about what to do if they ever come across a gun, but you shouldn’t have to rely on the memory and judgment of a child as the first line of defense from a weapon. While every child should know the rules for encountering a gun are “Don’t touch, leave the area, find an adult,” that shouldn’t be the only step adults take with regard to kids and gun safety.

When I first started thinking about this issue, it was in regards to dropping my son off for playdates at friends’ houses where he’s not under my direct supervision. I’ve talked to him about what to do if he sees a gun, but I’ve also talked to him about jumping on the furniture, and he forgets that rule almost every day. So, I needed a plan for how to ask other adults about guns in their homes and what constitutes “safe enough” for my comfort. As a person who doesn’t keep guns in the home, I was woefully unqualified to assess gun safety, so I started asking around. I spoke to active-duty military, former military, government intelligence agents, hunters, my police department, and friends who shoot for fun. They all said the same thing: guns in homes with kids should be stored unloaded and locked up. Ammunition should be locked up separately.

That seemed simple enough for me to understand. Unloaded, guns and ammo locked up separately. That’s become my baseline criteria for letting my kids play at the home of a gun owner. One friend suggested the exception is if a gun was securely holstered to the body of an adult. I’d have to know the adult really, really well to be comfortable with that, but it’s another point for parents to consider. I know some parents who won’t let their kids play in home with guns at all, and that’s another valid position to take. We know our kids best, and we are the best judges of their safety.

Talking to other adults about gun storage is surprisingly simple. I take an “ask and tell” approach. I always share our firearm status along with sharing other safety information like what pets we have, how we store medications, our rules about Internet access, and asking if children invited to the house have allergies. I also always, always, always ask about guns. If you’re cringing about how weird and awkward that sounds, I assure you, it only hurts for a minute. I tend to ask via text or email and I’ve never once had a parent react badly.

The bottom line is, I feel that it’s important to keep my kids away from guns. Because I feel that way, I talk about gun safety with other parents the same way I talk to other parents about car seats and bike helmets and Internet safety. Guns are part of our world, and I can’t ignore the reality of that. Conversations about gun safety could save lives. Let’s all have those conversations.

{Scary Mommies: It’s up to us. Together, WE CAN DO THIS. Please join us in taking a stand against gun violence and fighting for a safer country for our children. Learn ways to make a difference at For more on safe gun storage, check out Be SMART For Kids and Project Child Safe.}

This article was originally published on