The Most Important Question Parents Should be Asking

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“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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8 thoughts on “The Most Important Question Parents Should be Asking

  1. Good article. No small kids in my world – but I absolutely would NOT be offended if someone asked or declined a visit. Totally understand.

  2. What in the wide, wide, world of sports does any of this have to do with the Geek Sphere of things? I honestly do not even know where to begin with this post. First of all most people who own guns do not like to talk about the fact that they do. It is a private personal choice weather it is a personal defense pistol, a rifle for hunting, Guns for competing in various sports, or even a collectible war relic or heirloom. Second the article is just dripping with, not even thinly veiled, but overt disdain for gun owners. At one point you say “Maybe you live in a Texas border town, or an area with a lot of hunters, and guns are more commonplace.” A Texas border town? Really? I don’t know if that is meant to be mocking or slightly racist. Do you actually believe that Texas is still the old west or that all Texans arm themselves to the teeth to fight off illegal Mexican emigrants? While there might be some Texans who do that, I don’t know for sure, I’ve never been to a Texas border town. However, in the next paragraph you go on to state that you want to normalize asking the question of “Is there an unlocked gun in the house” and make it a “judgement-free zone”. It is pretty clear that you are severely judgmental of people who own firearms. You say that guns are a health issue equal to a child having a life threatening allergy. I think the more important health issue is sending your child to play at a house where the children are not supervised. Congratulations, you send your child to a house with no guns. Then they go out back and start hitting rocks with a baseball bat and you child takes a rock to the head. Now your child is getting stitches in their scalp, has a possible concussion and could have lost an eye if the rock had been an inch further in. I use this example because it happened to me when I was a child. I know for a fact my mother asked the parents if there were guns in the house because I was there when she asked, but I never went back because we were not being supervised. I don’t ask if my children are going to a house with a gun, I ask if my kids are going to a house where they are going to be unsupervised and anything bad could happen to them. After all that, I believe that the final piece of irony is that you right this wonderful post about how you want to make sure about how your children are not anywhere they could be harmed by a gun, and you list that your favorite Christmas movie is Die Hard. You fear guns but your favorite Christmas movie spends two hours glorifying gun violence and the gun toting action hero.

  3. I hope that parents pursue background checks on the people in the homes that their children are visiting as well, but I am betting that rarely or never happens. Far more children are sexually and/or physically assaulted (many by someone they know) than are victims of gun violence. I’m not saying asking someone about gun ownership is necessarily a problem if that’s something you’re concerned about, but checking the local sex offender registry is pretty easy and I don’t often see many people advocating for that.

  4. It is a hard topic, as the comments suggest. Firearm accidents are rare –more rare than (depending on your child’s age) — unsecured pools, unsecured household chemicals, unsecured prescription meds, fire hazards, fall hazards, etc. Consider relative risk. Also, be aware of your state’s laws — many states require firearms to either be under the owner’s direct control or properly secured so they can’t be used by others.
    Kids can learn to handle firearms in a safe, supervised way. I think the Scouts (Boy and Girl Scouts) still teach shooting with BB guns at camp, as do other camps. There are youth shooting leagues, some as part of high schools. Demystifying firearms with a class may do wonders to avoid accidents from curiosity.
    Every kid should know basic firearms safety — not to handle anything that is not clearly a toy (like Nerf, squirt guns, etc.), to walk away if someone else is making them feel unsafe (including by handling something that is not clearly a toy firearm), and to tell a grown-up.
    When a kid is old enough to play with Nerf or squirt guns, you can work more advanced safety into play — always check to see if loaded, finger off the trigger until ready to fire, don’t point at face/neck of other players, at anyone not part of the game, at animals, or at anything that might break if your toy accidentally fires, drop immediately if anyone seems frightened/angry, especially if in a public place.

    1. You are correct about Scouts. The Boy Scouts of America requires those who work on the BB Gun and Rifle tasks with the boys (and girls in many cases) to have taken an NRA-approved range safety course, and the Scouts are taught range and weapon safety first and foremost.

  5. I kind of laughed because, before I’d even read this article, I thought of the comparison to peanut allergies! I think guns scare people on principle and that adds a bit of a JUDGEMENT thing to it, that there are plenty of people who would find the fact that there are even guns in a house SHOCKING. But my husband is a HUGE gun geek, so yes of course there are guns in our house, and yes of course they are always stored properly, and yes the children have the rules of safe gun handling-or-lack-thereof thoroughly engrained in them. So yes there are two children in a house with guns and they are in far less danger from them than from falls or cuts or combinations of the two (speaking of an actual incident involving a Christmas ornament this past winter), or, you know, all the usual hazards, because we KNOW how to store guns properly, and the kids never even come near them. BUT, I thought, we are TOTALLY irresponsible with our peanut products in this house. THAT would definitely be an issue for someone with an allergy visiting! I’m not sure I’d actually be ABLE to clean up thoroughly enough– I’m always finding random swipes of peanut butter here or there.

    I guess my point is that when somebody is responsible and they know they’re dealing with something potentially hazardous, they know how to deal with it. If they’re not responsible, or, in our case, aren’t dealing with something that could be hazardous to anyone in THAT family (ie there’s no peanut allergies here) then you have cause to be concerned, whatever the hazard is.

  6. I agree completely that no child should ever be in the same house, supervised or unsupervised, with an unlocked gun. But the author’s “personal” aversions, in my view, could be dangerous in the long-term. If you teach your child that your gut instinct is more than actual facts, that’s not a good lesson. Actual facts suggest that long guns in the hands of a child are just as dangerous as handguns, and that properly locked guns (where the child has no access to the key) are pretty darn safe.

    Also, you should be asking about swimming pools as well, which kill many children every year.

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