On December 14, 2012, a mass shooting occurred that shook me to my very core. Why was I so affected? I didn’t know any of the victims or their families. Until that day, I’d never even heard of Newtown, Connecticut. But I was terrified, and since that tragic day, I have carried the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting with me every day of my life, and that is why I always ask about guns before playdates.
What made Sandy Hook different than other school shootings?
I had a 22-month-old baby at home. It’s pretty remarkable how your outlook on everything changes when you first discover that a piece of your heart beats outside of you, within your child.
The very next day, I took my baby to tour a preschool for the first time. Instead of questions about diet and naps, and learning experiences and potty training, I was asking questions about safety and emergency protocols and escape plans. I could not have cared less about what they fed her, but I had to know who was permitted into the building and who would have access to my child. All great questions that should be asked, but I probably wouldn’t have thought much about them had we toured that preschool on December 13th instead.
That 22-month-old baby is now almost nine years old and has a far more robust social life than I have ever had. My calendar is filled with her social engagements–play dates and birthday parties, and sleepovers. While I am not nearly as frantic as I was touring that preschool back in 2012, I do still ask questions about gun safety whenever she is going to be visiting a new home for the first time. What the questions are depends on the context of the visit and how well I know the parents, but there is one question I will always, always, always ask:
Do you keep any guns in your home, and if yes, how are they stored?
That’s it. Just a “simple” yes or no question . . . that rarely feels simple as I am about to hit send on that email or text message. When I first started asking, I would become unbelievably nervous. I would preface the question with apologies and explanations, but as time progressed, I’ve learned that I do not need to do that.
I ask the question respectfully, but unapologetically. I will do everything in my power to protect my daughter.
The truth is, I don’t care if someone does keep guns in their home.
I am in no way casting aspersions on responsible gun owners. We live in Iowa, and people hunt. It’s a hobby, and it’s normal. But, I do care how those guns are stored, because every year, hundreds of children in the United States gain access to firearms and unintentionally shoot themselves or someone else (Be Smart for Kids website, 2019).
One in three U.S. households contain at least one gun, and over 4.6 million kids age 18 and under are living in households with loaded and unlocked firearms (Azrael, Cohen, Salhi & Miller, 2018). According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), 78 children, teens, and young adults are injured or killed by guns every day in the United States (AAP, 2019). The AAP advocates for common-sense solutions to help prevent gun injuries and deaths, and one of those solutions is asking about the presence of guns in the home.
Teaching our children about gun safety is important, but the onus of safety is the responsibility of the adults in the child’s life.
If there is any chance a child, either mine or someone else’s, can gain access to a gun, then my daughter will not be allowed over to play.
It is so easy and natural to talk to another parent about food allergies, pets, screen time, and other concerns. We willingly lock away our cleaning supplies and put medicine out of reach, so why is asking about another safety concern so difficult? Asking about safe gun storage hasn’t been normalized yet, and it is high time it was. It is not a question that is meant to offend. It is a question that ensures that my child, and all children in the home, are safe from unintentional shootings.
I just want my child–and all children–to be safe.
Practice makes perfect, but if you aren’t sure how to initially phrase the question, I’ve included screenshots of actual conversions parents have had with other parents to ask about gun presence in the home. If it feels uncomfortable, and it probably will at first, that’s okay. Please ask anyway. As someone who generally dislikes phone calls, the glory that is email and text messaging has definitely eased my way.
Do you ask about guns before your child’s playdates?
Additional Gun Safety Resources
Browse below for additional information and guidance on gun safety and storage.
Asking About Secure Gun Storage
A helpful guide for asking about the presence of guns in the home.
Safe Gun Storage
Information about secure storage practices to reduce gun violence.
Gun Safety Initiatives
Learn more about gun safety initiatives from the American Academy of Pediatrics, an organization dedicated to the health of all children.