A few weeks ago our neighborhood had a few cars and a garage broken into and robbed. And, while we’ve occasionally had incidents like this, I would consider our neighborhood as a very safe place to live.
Regardless, any type of robbery has neighbors alert and on edge, and children might suddenly feel like they are no longer safe from crime.
This was the case one afternoon a few days after the robbery when one of my sons was at a friend’s house. The mom had run to the grocery store and the boys were alone with a teenage brother. A loud knock came to the door and the boys got scared; they immediately thought that on the other side of the door was a person of questionable intent.
My son’s friend had an idea. “I’m getting my dad’s gun.”
When I heard about this incident I immediately realized that I had never even thought about my children accessing guns at a neighbor’s house. And, I could clearly see a scenario unfold that would have horrible consequences. It isn’t that my son and his friend are reckless, but when faced with a situation in which they were fearful, the more rational side of their decision making process pretty much shuts down. And preteen boys aren’t really known for excellent decision making even when fear isn’t a factor.
Up until this point I had never even thought to ask the parents of my children’s friends if they had guns in the house or if the guns were in a gun safe. To my knowledge, this was never a question my parents asked, and honestly I’ve never been asked this question by parents of my children’s friends. I grew up with a family of hunters and we had shotguns in the house. To be honest, I don’t know where exactly they were stored, but I don’t remember having a gun safe. And now living in Texas (especially with the recent open carry law) guns seem to be an indelible part of the culture, and not just for hunting.
Luckily (even the use of that word seems strange because a secured gun shouldn’t be a matter of luck) the neighbor had his guns locked in a safe and the boys couldn’t find the key. But having three preteen boys, and knowing very well their penchant for fuzzy thinking and questionable decision making, was I being an irresponsible parent for not asking my children’s friend’s parents: Do you have guns in the house and are all of them locked in a gun safe?
An article in the Washington Post states that, “American children (are) nine times more likely to die in gun accidents than children anywhere else in the developed world.” And, these deaths happened when children either found a gun or were left alone with one, and ended up shooting themselves or others. A Harvard study found that 70% of kids under ten know where their parent’s guns are stored.
Still an even more troubling statistic states that 1.7 million children live in homes that have unsecured fire arms. Most of us probably have a least one friend who keeps firearms in an unsecured location such as the drawer of a nightstand or on top of the refrigerator.
With all of these statistics staring me in the face, I can’t believe that I never even thought to ask other parents if they had firearms and if the firearms were all in a secured safe. I posed the question on my Facebook page and the comments were interesting and far ranging. Some people were like me: they had never asked and never even thought to ask other parents. Another group of friends actually asked and cited situations that caused them not to let their children over at that friend’s house. In one comment, a mother told how she found out that a family friend had a gun hidden in a “high place” in each room. Those parents believed that children could not access those hidden firearms.
Other parents said that they had talked to their children about guns and gun safety, and emphasized that the child was never ever to touch a gun. Still other parents said that they never asked other parents, they themselves had guns and they never had a situation where there was a problem.
Colleen Pence, a mom and blogger, provided this video about gun safety and how to ask other parents if they have guns secured in a gun safe. The video gives a great example of how to ask other parents if they have guns.
After I had posted my question on Facebook, a mother did contact me on the phone. “I should have called you a lot sooner,” she began, “but I felt awkward.” Then she described a situation where her son was at my house and playing with my boys in the garage. Later when her son returned home he told his mother how one of my sons told this boy that he was going to climb a shelving unit in the garage to get his brother’s gun.
“So,” she asked me on the phone, “do you have guns at your house?”
I was shocked, and I stammered, “No. We don’t have any guns here. . .” And then I remembered. “Except for my son’s Airsoft guns.” For those of you who aren’t familiar with Airsoft guns I wrote about them here. I’m sure that either Scott or I had put the gun up high to keep it away from the younger boys and any friends. But, still that gun was not secured and a plastic Airsoft pellet can easily do irreparable harm. We had made the exact mistake that I’m fearful that other parents might also make. We had a gun (albeit an Airlift gun) within reach of children.
I immediately thought of another mother of boys who commented on my Facebook post that not only do she and her husband lock up their guns in a gun safe, the Airsoft guns get locked up, too.
When my friend called, even though I felt embarrassed about the situation she described and even more mortified that we had an Airsoft gun within reach (and, honestly let’s just be real that if a gun isn’t in a gun safe it is within reach) of a child, I was relieved that she told me. She might have felt awkward about it. . .but her straightforwardness could actually result in saving a child from being injured.
I’m convinced that this conversation needs to be in our homes and our neighborhoods. We need to ask about where and how guns are stored. I’m also convinced that we can’t simply rely on our children listening and obeying our directive of NEVER TOUCHING A GUN. Curiosity is strong. . .fear and peer pressure is even stronger.
So, now I’ll pose the question to you, do you ask your children’s friends if they have guns in the house and if all of the guns are in a gun safe?