The Most Important Question Parents Should be Asking

“Do you have any guns in your home?”

If this isn’t a question you’re already asking before sending your child into someone else’s home, it should be. Whether that means asking the parents of their friends or your friends and relatives, it’s essential to ask about the firearm situation in any home your child visits.

It’s an uncomfortable topic. Talking about guns in America is tricky and delicate. Asking the question before sending your child to play in another’s home won’t protect them from stray bullets or celebratory gunfire. But it could protect them from tragedies like this.

Where do I start?

The first step is to define your own boundaries when it comes to firearms. I live in a northeastern suburb and don’t encounter many people who own guns. So far I’ve never gotten a “yes” to the “Do you own firearms?” question. But one in three homes with children have firearms, many of which are unsecured. It’s a matter of time before we’ll need to know what to do when we get a “yes.”

When our three-year-old was smaller, we had a policy that she does not go into any home with a firearm. Period. That policy worked for us because she was basically going to a sitter’s or her grandparents’—none of whom were gun owners. But that’s just not a reality for every family, and not every family is anti-gun. It might not even be sustainable for our family.

Now that she’s hitting playdate age, I decided to do some research for this post, which included asking other GeekMoms and friends for their approaches. My husband and I have updated our conversation about it. For him, environment is key: Is the gun secured? Are the owners professionally trained? Are they trustworthy?

For me, I have a real aversion to handguns. Even if it’s secured in a law enforcement officer’s home, they will always make me more uncomfortable than, say, a farmer who keeps a secured shotgun for necessary farm work. Our preference is still no guns, but now we know our specific concerns if it does need to be addressed.

So define the boundaries that work for your family and your values in your part of the country. Maybe you live in a Texas border town, or in an area with a lot of hunters, and guns are more commonplace. Maybe you own firearms and just want to ensure that others in contact with your kids take the same precautions you do. Maybe you don’t like guns, but your child’s grandparents have a house full of them.

By Armorpiercer (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Armorpiercer (Own work) [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.
How do I ask?

Campaigns like ASK help parents ask the gun question. The idea is to normalize asking “Is there an unlocked gun in your house?” and make it judgement-free. The gun owners I talked to all agreed that any responsible gun owner would not be offended if a parent asked them how they were secured.

GeekMom Laura does it as casually as possible. “I’ve asked this question for years, usually prefaced with ‘You’ll probably think I’m nuts for asking this….’ Once I even asked my parent’s minister when his son invited one of my kids to a sleepover.”

Parents don’t have any reservations telling someone if their child has a health issue, like a serious peanut or pet allergy. I think this question falls into the same category and warrants the same consideration. An unsecured gun is a health issue, and you wouldn’t want your child near one any more than you’d want your child in a house with five dogs if they were allergic to them.

What if the answer is, “Yes, we have a gun?”

Decide if you have a total ban on visits to households with firearms, or maybe just households with a handgun. If a ban isn’t necessary to you, ensure that firearms are ideally kept unloaded and locked up, with the ammunition locked up in a separate location. Or at the very least, that firearms are locked up and only adults can access them.

If you’re not satisfied with the answer, ask if the other family (or relatives, or whoever it may be) would mind meeting at your house or somewhere neutral, like a park, instead of at their house. There is definitely a 50/50 chance this will offend them… maybe more like 40/60, based on responses I received. This is probably the hardest part of the entire process, but you’ll have to decide if your boundaries on this gun issue are more important than hurt feelings.

And guess what? They really, truly are. If your child was deathly allergic to peanuts and was invited to the house of someone who told you they left peanuts lying around and didn’t secure them (go with me on this one), you would absolutely decline or at least request some modifications. Even if it offended the host. Even if you ended up losing this peanut-happy friend. Because DEATHLY ALLERGY. Guns have equal power to do harm, so stand your ground.

Here is also where trust and instinct comes in. At least two people I spoke to who do keep guns in the house said they are reluctant to tell people they have them because it could a) Put them at greater risk for burglary if word got around; or b) Bring a lot of anti-gun judgement and rhetoric.

And, how do you know someone is telling the truth when they say the guns are secured?

My take away from everyone I asked is that responsible gun owners can tell if other owners are responsible based on the answers they give and their general attitude about firearms.

If you’re not familiar with guns, this is another trust-your-gut moment. If this is a family you’ve known for a while but are just now visiting their home, you should be able to gauge how trustworthy they are. But if it’s a new-to-you family, if you get even the slightest tingling feeling that something isn’t right, do not ignore it.

What if, despite my best efforts, my child comes into contact with a gun at someone’s house?

This could happen. Several GeekMoms, who are all gun owners, have taken their kids (and themselves) for gun safety classes. They also talk to their kids about what they should do if they see an unsecured gun at someone’s house. I think this is a crucial step that a lot of us unaccustomed to guns might not even think of (I didn’t).

Here’s Laura’s advice for what kids should do if they see an unsecured gun:

Stop.
Don’t touch.
Remove yourself from the area.
Tell an adult.

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Jackie Reeve is a Core Contributor and former Senior Editor at GeekMom. She's a librarian, a writer, and a quilt designer. She's wife to an Englishman and mom to a little geek girl, and she blogs about life and crafts at The Orange Room. Jackie's obsessed with cardigans and thinks Die Hard is the best Christmas movie there is.