I read today on Facebook that a friend of mine asked a mom if there were guns in her home before responding to a RSVP for a child’s birthday party. I was amazed by her audacity, her bravery, her awareness. Even though a day rarely goes by that I don’t think about the shooting in Newtown, it never occurred to me that as my children’s social circles expand that I need to consider more than the basic questions (what, where and when). As one of her other FB friends stated, it’s a question parents should “normalize.”
I grew up with guns, specifically rifles. As a farmer, it was one of the tools of the trade and used for hunting, pest control and as brutal as it sounds, to humanely treat critically ill livestock. They were kept (and still are) in an unlocked cabinet in my parent’s house where even now my kids can see them and frequently ask about them when we visit. The only dangerous situation I ever recall happening was this incident back when I was still pregnant with Aitch (I never would have guessed it had been that long ago) when my husband had one of the old rifles misfire while he was handling it.
The point is, I’m not at all ignorant about guns and how they can be used effectively in the hands of a responsible owner, but I also know that there are a half-dozen less objectionable ways to protect ourselves or to put meat on the table. So simply put, I don’t like guns, under any circumstances. It wasn’t until I read my friend’s update mentioned above would I have ever thought to ask the parent of a child if they had guns before I considered letting either Aitch or Doodicus go to their homes. I then put the question to my friends (bear with me as I included ALL of the responses below):
I have to ask, and I do so respectfully (and expect the same in responses): would you ask a parent if they have guns in their home if your child was invited to a sleepover? And how would you address this with your child if the parent’s response was not favorable?
RN: I wouldn’t even think to ask this question, but I think it’s a really important one. If there is a gun in the home, I would follow up with asking how it is stored (is it locked up in a gun safe?) and if it’s loaded and where the ammunition is stored. If everything is locked up in gun safes and only a responsible adult knows the combo, it is probably ok. Right?
KA: No, because although it’s not completely unheard of here (we live in quite a rural area and next to a big game shooting area), legally they would have to be in a locked cabinet, inspected etc.
TGM: i don’t know if i would think to ask but then again i am not sure. if a parent asked me that i would answer them honestly. yes we have guns in our home. they are kept in my room, in a closet where the children can not access them easily. they are kept unloaded and the ammunition for them is not kept in the same area as the guns. if they objected to their child being there, i am ok with that and don’t see it causing any hard feelings on my part. i know that not everyone is comfortable with guns. i am not that comfortable with them. all of the guns we own are my husbands, used for hunting (no hand guns) and some are from his grandpa that were handed down. however, i don’t have an issue with my child being in a home where responsible gun ownership is being practiced. responsible being the key word. and of course i assume that i would know that family pretty well.
MG: Never thought of it before..
XV: 1. Yes. 2. I’m worried about a lot of kids in the same house with guns. Yes, I know the parents are very responsible, and I know you are careful, but you know as well as I do, darling child, that kids can be crafty and get excited in packs, so…I’d rather not risk it. I love you.
IPK: I would absolutely ask and if the answer was yes I would not allow my child to visit that home. I once visited a home and discovered after half an hour that my three year old was playing with duplos in a room with a shotgun leant up behind the door. I died ten times inside.
EGM: I don’t know that I would think to ask normally but if I did, I would follow it up with asking how they are stored and locked away. If the answers weren’t satisfactory, I would be honest with the other parent and say that I’m not comfortable with it and ask if the child could sleep over at my own house first. Then I’d address it with my child. With a child of [Dood’s] age, I’d be honest and explain my concern and the solution (hopefully the other parent would be OK with the sleepover at my house instead). With a younger child, I’d probably just say that we’d decided to change it to our house. For the record, we have a gun–it’s kept locked up in a coded safe, unloaded, and the ammunition is under separate lock-and-key. Only Jxxxx and I know the code to get to the gun itself, so even crafty kids couldn’t get it.
KA: I let M spend the night with a friend who I know the family has guns. They live on a rural property, and the guns are locked away. I think the dad usually does carry on his person though. I grew up on a farm though, and my father had guns, so my comfort level might be different.
KJW: I would ask. I’ve personally known 2 families that wish they would have asked as well. You can’t be to careful. You don’t get a “re-do” with a gun.
KA: Also, I’ve had some pretty blunt discussions with my M about guns and gun safety. I agree that there are people out there who might be careless with guns–and careless with other things too. Trust your gut. If you’re not comfortable, for any reason, keep your child home and do something else.
EMM: Yes, I would absolutely ask! If they were locked away and secured appropriately, fine. If not, explain the rules of gun safety with him (treat every gun as if it is loaded, etc.)
JF: Oh honey, I ask even if we have a play date and I’m staying. It’s an important question to ask.
EC: I have the gun talk with my boys A LOT. Their Dad and his brothers all have guns. They are locked up appropriately, but I’m paranoid. There are three houses in the neighborhood where my kids play and have sleepovers. I’m nosy enough to know that all the parents are crazy liberals like me and don’t own any guns.
MGK: Never would have asked that I grew up in a home with guns was educated starting at an early age (5) my daughter has been shooting since she was 5. I feel it is very important that our youth are taught about guns what is proper handling and how to act around guns. People can get hurt around guns if they don’t know proper handling and how to act. If children are brought up and taught to respect guns and that they should not handle guns without an adult present I believe you have a lot less to worry about. When kids are introduced to something and taught properly they are less likely to investigate on their own it becomes second nature. When I was growing up my dad had all of his guns in his gun room and I knew I couldn’t go in there and when I had friends over they were not aloud in the room and it was never an issue.
KY: We have guns and they are locked in a gun safe. I wouldn’t be offended if someone asked me about it but I have never asked, nor have I had anyone ask us. We have lots of sleepovers.
KA: [Yo-yo Mama], the more I think about this, I had to add that A LOT of things make me nervous about sleepovers. (Older siblings, drugs, other safety concerns, and so on.) I think for me, it comes down to how well do I know the family, how comfortable am I with them, and do I have a high enough level of overall trust for my son to be in their care for any amount of time? When I lived in Boston/Cambridge, guns probably would not have come up. Living in rural NH, I tend to assume that almost everyone, regardless of political leanings, likely has a gun. I went to get a permit myself recently, and had to go back, because the PD has run out of applications. I don’t currently own a gun, but I wouldn’t be offended if I was asked politely if I did, by a concerned parent.
CC: Yep. And if I wasn’t comfortable with the answer, my kid wouldn’t go over to that friend’s house. I’m the mama. I don’t give a fig about the other family. There are houses that are off limits to my children because I think the people are too stupid to be responsible (with and without guns). There are houses that are off limits to my children because I know drugs are present. There are houses that are off limits because the parents allow movies and videogames that my children are not allowed. My job is to do what I think is best for MY family…not be politically correct. And how I handle it…I’m honest with my kids about it.
JF: We have a lot of potentially dangerous medications in our house. For my child’s safety and the safety of those visiting our home, we purchased a medication lock box. We keep all of our daily meds in there (the scary stuff – not the vitamins). I think it was $30 but it gives us peace of mind. We also put it up high when we have kids over and our son does not know the combination (though he’s tried to get it out of us LOL)
KCN: Vitamins can be fatal too if ingested in high quantities. I would lock those up too.
JF: True [KCN] – they are kept out of reach as well. However, I’m more concerned with seizure meds and stimulants than vitamins and space is limited.
CMS: The harder part of your question is explaining it to your child. They really have no comprehension of the finality of gun accidents. If a parent is offended by you asking, I would wonder why. Shouldn’t they be just as concerned if the sleepover was at your place? I think an open discussion is never out of place.
KY: I agree that we don’t do sleepovers with people we don’t know very well – my son is just uncomfortable in that situation. So, with that said, we know the families and where they stand on the issue of guns. Now, one of my son’s best friends has parents that “act drunk” in his words, or leave the kids home alone often at night. He himself chooses not to stay at their home overnight.
KF: Do I have to let my kids go on sleep overs? . Never thought of that now I have another reason to be paranoid! . I am not sure if I personally would have the guts to ask but I wish I could! Good luck with that one!
KSB: Sleepovers aren’t what they used to be. I fear the older sibling or the older sibling’s friend or the creepy uncle who swings by for pizza. Medications, drugs, guns. I recognize that I can’t control every environment my children enter, nor do I want to limit their experiences. We haven’t reached sleepover age yet but I’m sure it won’t be long. We’ve already agreed that sleepovers aren’t allowed unless we are friends with the parents. Not just friendly. Friends. My nephew went to a sleepover and their house phone was turned off that night. The mother didn’t want to use up all her minutes letting the 10 yr old boys contact their parents, so my SIL had no way of contacting her son. The next morning the mom took the boys to a splash park without asking permission or notifying anyone. The police found my nephew in a parking garage outside the park. He was fine but terrified. Some if our close friends have guns. My kids could sleepover at some of their homes but not all. Not all gun owners are safe and responsible. In fact I am terrified that the house next door to us has four unlocked guns and two mentally impaired/unstable preschoolers. We don’t do play dates at their house. It’s likely nothing bad will ever happen over there, but why hang around to find out? I understand we will encounter tears and drama and “it’s not fair!” The first time W isn’t allowed to go to the big fun sleepover but I’m okay with that. It’s my job to keep her safe. Not keep her cool.
JLK: It, coming from a no gun culture, scares the Willies out of me that people would have them in their homes. No matter how they are kept.
SR: I absolutely would ask but I wonder how many people are going to tell you if they have guns but don’t store them properly? I didn’t grow up with guns and I’m scared of them but I know people who are responsible gun owners so I don’t think that anyone who has a gun necessarily is bad or irresponsible. As other people pointed out, there are so many things surrounding sleepovers that are troublesome for me but it all really boils down to how well do I know the parents (which I know isn’t a guarantee either).
ALH: Sigh. I would ask, if I was an American. Don’t know how I’d respond to a yes — and I come from a hunting culture and have handled plenty of guns.
JL: I ask, saying something like “you know how interested kids are at this age.” And he doesn’t go if I’m not comfortable with the answer. I also have a good long talk with him about what to do if the subject of seeing a gun comes up.
Even after reading the comments, I’m still not sure if it’s something I won’t feel awkward asking about, but it really is a question that shouldn’t be uncommon (“normalized”), and therefore shouldn’t be a question that anyone would find offensive. On the other hand, it makes me wonder how I would feel if a parent who was a hardcore NRA member refused to allow their child over to our house because I wouldn’t be the person willing to arm myself to save their baby in an event that would be a hundred (if not a thousand) times MORE unlikely than an accidental gun-inflicted injury.
And while we’re talking about accidents, it never occurred to me that we should have my son’s stimulants secured in a lock box, which we are now going to remedy. But what about the beer in the fridge? What about the carkeys on the hooks? What about the stairs to the basement? The toilets, kitchen knives and glassware? Sure, *I* know there’s a huge difference between a gun and a glass, but the difference comes in teaching Responsibility. For me, that is something I can teach and don’t have to have a gun in my hand to teach it. NOT talking about it isn’t going to make it go away or not happen, and that’s hard for me to remember because open discussions often feel as if I’m erasing innocence.