Dangerous Play Dates: What Every Parent Should Ask About Guns

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By Vicki Little

My son, a Kindergartener at the time, had begged me for weeks to let him have a play date with his two friends, who happened to be twins. Seemed simple enough. The mother was a school volunteer like me, and I had met her many times. She definitely seemed to have her stuff together. I trusted her with my son — kind of. You see, this was his first real play date without me, and I admit that I was a nervous wreck about letting him play at someone else’s house. The night before the play date was a sleepless one for me. How did my baby grow up so fast? What if something happened? I admit that I worried about the everything. What if he got hurt? What if the kids found matches? What if they found a gun? A gun.

It might seem a little far-fetched, but if you stop and read the statistics, this is a question that every parent should be concerned about. We ask for contact details when our children go to a friend’s house. We make sure our kids have an epi-pen, just in case they are exposed to peanuts. But are we asking about whether the family has a gun in the house – and if so, is it locked up? As parents, we absolutely should be.

According to the Brady Campaign, which was created to prevent gun violence, there are 1.7 million children in the U.S. who live in homes with unlocked and loaded guns. The number of households with a gun increases even more when you add in those where the gun is actually locked up and unloaded. According to the CDC, there were 108 accidental firearm deaths of children ages 18 and under in 2013.

Do you know if your child’s best friend lives in a house with a gun? What would your child do if he or she ever came across a gun at a friend’s house? Have you ever asked either question?

The next day, I mustered all my courage, ignored the worry of looking stupid, and I asked the mom if they had any guns in the house. She didn’t look surprised at all, and said “no” and that I was welcome to look around if that made me feel better. It wasn’t hard at all. It actually made me wonder why I felt so uncomfortable asking. The sad fact is that the question is uncomfortable because it is a bit taboo. Since it is a hot topic, asking someone if they have a gun in their house is similar to asking which political candidate they voted for. The question feels judgmental and accusing.

So as parents, how are we supposed to feel comfortable sending our children off to play at other homes? I think we can be more comfortable by being responsible and having two very important talks.

TALKING TO THE OTHER PARENTS:

Don’t wait until you are at the door dropping off your child to ask the question: “Is there a gun in your house?” Do this ahead of time, in a phone call or email. Don’t do it during drop-off, when other parents are listening. If the answer is “yes, ” you are fully justified in asking if it is locked up and unloaded — and follow up with how it is secured. If you don’t like the answer or if you just don’t feel like you are hearing the whole truth, offer to have the kids play at your house instead. It may feel awkward, but you are the only one who can have those hard conversations that may potentially save your child’s life. Don’t regret not having it.

TALKING WITH YOUR CHILDREN:

This is vital to keeping your children safe in case they come across a gun. There is no predicting how your child will act when they come across something as dangerous and intriguing as a gun. They may think it looks like a toy gun and pick it up to pretend to use it and accidentally discharge it. When you talk to your children, be sure to emphasize that they DO NOT TOUCH IT — no matter what. And if their friend picks it up, they are to immediately leave the room and find an adult. They should not try to talk the friend out of it. They should not try to get the gun from the other child. They should not go over to look at the gun. They should get away quickly and call out to the parents as soon as they have left the room. Chances are, the other kid knows not to play with a gun and will put it down before a parent catches them with it. Emphasize that they should assume that every gun is loaded. Also, assure them that they will NOT get in trouble for anything. If you own a gun yourself, or if you have a friend who does, you may even want to show it to your child in a controlled environment so that they aren’t too curious about it later.

Having an uncomfortable conversation may be the one thing that saves a child from tragedy, so don’t be afraid to have it. Join us on Facebook for a discussion on this and other parenting issues.

Vicki Little is a work-at-home mom with two young kids. A Colorado native, she is the Publisher and Editor of Macaroni Kid Aurora and Downtown Denver. When she isn’t writing or trying to keep up with her kids she can be found volunteering, reading, or enjoying a bottle of wine with friends.

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