I have two kids. One is 11, the other, almost 8.
I’m about to do a parenting exercise, so please bear with me. You might want to do some calculating yourself as I do mine:
I decided to tally up the number of playdates my children have had over the years. I reached the total by allotting two playdates per child per week—although they’ve very likely gone on more than that. I wanted to err on the conservative side. I factored in only those playdates they attended when they were old enough to hang out at someone else’s house without me, or a designated babysitter, present. Even if it was just for an hour.
Let’s assume it was always Mommy and Me (or my nanny and kid) before the age of 5. (Maybe I’ll factor in some extra playdates for the rare occasions I dropped off my preschooler at a friend’s while I ran errands. But these were fairly rare.)
When I do the math, my kids conservatively have gone on 1,000 playdates (combined) while in the care of someone else other than myself, a family member or a hired professional following my specific instructions. These include fun times at close friends’ houses, hours spent over at the neighbors’, as well as first play times with new families I don’t know all that well from school.
Why on earth did I bother doing this?
It inspired me to do some research. No matter where you stand on the gun issue—and there are plenty of compelling arguments on both sides, to be sure—there’s no denying we have a problem with gun violence in our country. And the fact is, kids are regularly its victims.
One in three American homes has a gun in it. This is a conservative figure, based on recent Pew Research figures. However, Gallup released a study a few years ago that indicated 47 percent of Americans—nearly half—had a gun somewhere on their property. And party lines don’t seem to matter much. While it’s true more Republicans own guns (55 percent), plenty of Democrats do, too (40 percent). So don’t assume because you live in, say, “blue” cities such as Brooklyn or San Francisco, you’re not affected. You are, just as you are in “red” cities such as, I don’t know, Dallas or Des Moines. Odds are, my kids—and yours—have already played inside a home with a firearm tucked away inside the drawer of a side table in a parent’s bedroom. Maybe loaded, maybe not. Maybe locked and secure. Or maybe not.
Nine children are shot in this county each day in gun accidents. I confess, I’ve read these headlines with alarming frequency. These stories always fill me with intense empathy for the victim’s parents. And when the shooter is a child, the shooter is a victim, too. These tragedies always seem to be about someone else’s family; I don’t ever imagine this sort of thing could ever affect mine. How’s that for straight-up denial?
Eighty percent of unintentional gun deaths among kids under 15 occur not in the street but in or around the home. Many of us automatically think of gang-related violence when we hear about kids shooting each other. Certainly this kind of gun violence occurs way too frequently, and it must not be overlooked or downplayed. Yet accidental shootings happen every day. Killing children. And almost all accidental shootings occur in or around the house.
Gun violence is the second leading cause of death in American children and teens. The second leading cause of death, parents! Not cancer, juvenile diabetes or flu. Only car accidents kill more kids than guns do in the United States.
I tallied my kids’ playdates because I realized that while I regularly query parents who are about to host my children about their unleashed dogs, the older siblings who might be at home, and their knowledge of using my daughter’s EpiPen should she need it, I’ve never once asked, Do you have guns in the home? Are they unloaded and safely secured?
Of course, that feels pretty awkward even to write. I’m not sure how it will come out if I actually say it. And yet, if accidental gun violence at home is so prevalent—and it is in this country—why wouldn’t I ask? Why wouldn’t you? Shouldn’t we all ask, up-front, and in a non-confrontational way?
The Brady Campaign’s Asking Saves Kids website is a great resource. The Campaign urges parents simply to educate ourselves about this issue and learn how to approach one another directly—without arguments or partisan ideology, please, let’s save that for Facebook—before another innocent child injures himself or herself, or another person, with an unlocked and loaded gun.
Because at the end of the day, we’re all parents. None of us, whether we own a weapon or not, want our children harmed. We can agree on that much.
And by the way, it just so happens that June 21—Father’s Day—is National Ask Day. If you want to learn more about ASK events in and around your city, click here.
One thousand playdates in my children’s lifetimes at other people’s homes. Now let me ask you: How many playdates have yours gone on? Are you ready to ask?