Talking to Parents About Guns

It’s a magical moment when your kids are old enough to have a playdate on their own. If you’re lucky, you may actually have an hour or two to yourself, to catch up on cleaning or to exercise or – can you imagine? – to relax.

But with the solo playdate comes some extra anxiety. You’re not there should your child fall down or break down or otherwise want a parent. You’re also not there to get a sense of what the potential dangers are in the house.

One area of potential danger – and one that parents should know about before agreeing to an in-house playdate – is whether there are guns in the house. Since 2015, there have been 411 reported cases of unintentional shootings involving children. That’s about one child every 32 hours. In 84 percent of those cases, the shooting occurred in a place one would usually consider “safe” – within the family home, or at the home of a close friend or relative. Children ages two to four are the age group most likely to accidentally shoot themselves.

We talked to the local chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America for tips on how to make the potentially awkward conversation about guns a bit less so, and to learn what the important questions are to ask.

Initiating the Conversation

Talking about guns in this country has become political and divisive. But a conversation about the presence of guns in the house doesn’t have to be. Ultimately the goal of the conversation is one we can all agree on – keeping our children safe.

Yet it can still feel awkward to ask a parent, especially one who you don’t know well, about the presence of guns in the home. Here are some tips:

  • Normalize the conversation. Put the conversation in the context of other safety concerns. For instance, if your child has a peanut allergy, it would be natural to ask about the presence of peanuts in the house. If your child is terrified of big dogs, you would want to know ahead of time if they had any pets.
  • Put it on yourself. You should never feel like you have to apologize for keeping your child safe, but the way you frame the conversation may make it easier to broach the subject of guns in the home. Try putting the conversation in the context of you – for instance, “With all the gun violence we’ve been hearing about lately, I’ve become really aware of issues surrounding guns.” By putting it in the context of you, it may make it seem less like you are passing judgment on gun ownership generally.
  • If you don’t feel comfortable talking about it, try writing about it. Sometimes a text or an email can help defuse some of the potential anxiety surrounding the conversation.

What to Ask

  • Do you have guns in the home? Obvious, yes. But that’s not the only question you should ask.
  • Will there be others in the home who carry guns? Frequent visitors, like relatives or neighbors, may have a permit to carry concealed.
  • How are the guns kept? If a family owns a gun, that gun should be kept locked and unloaded, with the ammunition kept in a separate location. There are about 2 million homes that have both children and guns in this country. In 1.7 million of those, the guns are kept loaded and unlocked. Even if the parents assure you that their children do not know where the guns are, that assurance may be misguided – 70 percent of kids do know where the guns are kept in the house, and parents often are not aware that the children know.

What to Do Next

For some, the mere presence of a gun is a deal breaker. For others, the presence of a gun is not an issue if it is kept locked and unloaded with the ammunition in a separation location. If you do not feel comfortable, that’s fine! You can suggest a playdate at your own house, or at a neutral location like a playground or the zoo.

Ultimately, it is up to you to decide what your comfort level is with the presence of guns in the home. And it’s also up to you to find the best ways to keep your children safe.

Thanks to Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in Oregon for their help with this article. Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in Oregon is a non-partisan grassroots movement working for stronger gun laws and to reduce gun violence. The tips above come from Moms’ BeSMART educational campaign, aimed at adults with the goal of preventing child gun deaths. For more information about BeSMART, click here. If you would like to schedule a BeSMART presentation for your PTA, faith group or organization, please contact Sarah at sarahvanportland@gmail.com. 

Ali Wilkinson
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Ali Wilkinson

Online Editor at PDX Parent
Ali Wilkinson is the Online Editor for PDX Parent, and is one of the founders of PDX Kids Calendar. She loves exploring Portland with her three small children, especially when the explorations lead outdoors, to music or to ice cream. You can read more from Ali at www.runknitlove.com.
Ali Wilkinson
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  • Happy Mama

    If you don’t know the parents well enough to know whether or not they have a gun in their home, let alone keep it safe, then there are more things you should consider asking about. Kids are much more likely to die due to drowning in someone’s pool than get in trouble with a gun… Prescription drugs and even things like bunk beds cause injuries or death for an average of 35,690 kids per year – a heck of a lot more than 411/yr. So if you’re asking about a gun and whether or not your playdate’s parents keep it locked up, I’d say make sure you’re prioritizing all the other ways your child could get injured at their home in your conversation just as highly or more so than the firearm. Otherwise, you’ll definitely come off as unintelligent and discriminatory. http://snicc.org/files/uploads/Facts_about_Swimming_Pool_Drowning_Accidents.pdf