I was raised in a gun-free house. No real guns, no toy guns. Not even water-guns were considered okay in the eyes of my mother. Neighborhood kids would drop their guns at the threshold of our yard before running up to ring the door bell to see if my sisters and I could play. To this day, I have never held nor shot a gun.
To date, we have successfully avoided toy guns with our 3.5-year-old son. Movies we did not pre-screen for content, however, have surprisingly shown gun-violence, even if in Lego form, and he definitely is attracted to aggressive play. He also is in a mixed-age classroom and gravitates towards the 5-year-old boys, so comes home talking Star Wars, Darth Vader and wants to play dead without understanding what that means. I don’t think I’m going to be able to extinguish all forms of pretend play that includes aggression or even weapons, although that’s my instinct, but at least in the safety of our home my husband or I am there to guide him or interrupt as necessary.
My son is starting to experience more and more independent of us, however, through school and through friendships. Recently, he went on his first solo play-date. While a parent was there, of course, I dropped him off at his friend’s house and he stayed there for a couple of hours until I came to pick him up. Letting my son venture off on his own was a big step for me. Solo play-dates at three is relatively common within my community, especially among parents who have older children. But I have been hesitant; partly because I was worried about how he’d behave; partly because granting this independence would be another signifier that my baby is growing up; and partly because I knew I would have to have the conversation about guns with the parent.
I don’t have to tell you that we live in a gun-obsessed culture. When we lived in California, I felt like I was observing this obsession from the safety of my own little bubble. Here in Georgia, however, concealed carry is legal and readily utilized. My neighborhood list-serves are constantly flooded with encouragement to buy and carry a gun as a way to combat crime in our area. Um…what? I agreed to move to Georgia, not the Wild Wild West.
The deep love for guns is not reserved to the American South, of course, and I was probably naive to feel removed from it in California. The numbness, the deafening silence to gun violence in our country continuously shocks me because I refuse to believe it’s outside of our control. After Sandy Hook, even though my son was only an infant at the time, I made the conscious decision that I would always have a conversation with other parents about guns if and when he would spend time in a home without me.
As plans were being formed for this play date, I realized I had never spoken to the parent about guns in her home. She and I are close friends and we were firing texts back and forth to solidify the drop off time. Since we both have younger children and I know phone calls are hard to pull off while caring for a newly turned toddler, I decided to say, “this may be awkward to ask over text, but do y’all keep guns in the house?” She promptly replied, “Nope. No real or fake guns here.” And that was that! Even though this woman is a friend, I felt some nervous energy around asking the question because I did not want to offend her. Ultimately, her response was positive and what I had hoped it would be, so I sent my son off to play feeling proud to have said something and much less worried about his physical safety.
Later that week, that same friend and I got together with our kids and she told me she had shared with some girlfriends that I had asked her about guns. Many of the women commented they would not have thought to ask about guns in the home before sending their kids to a play date. I was glad to know more parents were having this discussion. My friend then asked me, “what would you have said if I did keep guns in the house? Would you have not let your son come over?” This is a fair question and I’m not 100% sure where I’m at on this. I recognize that many people in Georgia own guns and store them safely, although, even typing that last statement feels somewhat like an oxymoron to me.
If a gun is kept in a house, the chance of injury or death significantly increases. I’m a forgetful person…I lose my keys, my phone or some sort of item every single day. I forget to lock the kitchen cabinet with all the dangerous chemicals. I once even forgot to buckle my son in his car seat and started backing out of our driveway before he cried, “Mom! I’m unbuckled!” People, myself included, are fallible, and even the most conscientious gun owner can make a mistake. Also, for the folks in my community who truly want to use their guns for protection, they can’t be properly securing them if they plan on defending themselves during a home intrusion.
For now, I reserve the right to make a decision on whether I feel comfortable enough to let my son play at a house in which guns are kept on a case by case basis. The first step is to ask if there are guns in the house so a conversation between adults can occur and an educated decision be made. Even though it might be awkward if I don’t know a parent very well, I feel strongly that it’s my job to muscle through that discomfort to protect my child.
Do you ask parents if they keep guns in the house before your child goes over to play? If there are guns in the house, what would be your response?
13 thoughts on “Asking parents if they keep guns in the home”
Thanks for this. I hadn’t thought about this before but agree with you entirely. I would not want my future child anywhere near a gun (toy or real).
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Shannon, what a thought provoking post. This definitely triggers something for me since we live in Texas and are surrounded by guns. They have passed open carry AND campus carry here, which worries me endlessly considering my husband spends most of his time on campus. I have yet to send my daughter on a solo playdate, but I know that time is quickly approaching. I’m not sure what I will do!
To play devil’s advocate for a moment: if you discourage gun play completely, do you think it will become a type of “forbidden fruit” syndrome? I spoke with a woman who allows her children to play with little wooden toy rifles on Saturday mornings with some ground rules: 1) everyone has to be on the same team, 2) they are absolutely forbidden to point guns at each other, 3) everyone has to be having fun. If any of the ground rules are broken, the game ends until next Saturday when they could try again. However, there are plenty of ideas for war-free adventure games for a preschooler with an active imagination (bow and arrows, fort building, setting “traps”, etc).
Thanks for getting the conversation going and continuing to strive for better!
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Thanks for these thoughts, Lauren! I think it’s a fair point to make that if we outlaw guns altogether, perhaps he’ll crave them even more. However, he does play a “blasting” game where he uses his fingers or sticks as blasters. We have rules with this game similar to the ones you describe. I don’t see myself ever allowing toy guns into our home, though. Water guns, maybe. Like I said, I was raised without this exposure and don’t feel like I missed out on anything. Using his imagination, my son will be able to play out different fantasies, whether I like it or not!
Once again, great post Shannon!! A very important, thought provoking topic!
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Shannon, great post, I read a similar column in the spring in the Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2015/03/31/the-question-i-ask-before-any-play-date/ that you may be interested in. My son is only two so I don’t yet have to have this conversation… it’s good to know you’re engaged in the dialogue and muscling through the awkwardness. I will conjure that when it’s my turn to ask the question.
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Thanks for the link, Stacey! The story of the child finding the gun on separate occasions is so frightening!
Great post, if we ban assault rifles and handguns across the country this will become less of an issue. I wrote a children’s book called “The Innovative Engine” which asks children to think critically about the world around them through the “true” stories of fairy tale characters. I intentionally did not write about guns in the story.
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