A friend recently posed a question that gave me pause. “Do you ask other parents if they have guns in the house before letting your kids play there?” she inquired.
No, no I haven’t, I replied, thinking the question should then become, “Why haven’t I?”
This friend has young kids, while mine are older at 13 and 10. But why didn’t I worry about this when they were younger? I think it was due in part to knowing their friends’ parents. Now that middle school is part of the equation, along with the occasional newcomer in elementary school, that statement no longer holds true.
The world has changed even in the nine years since we started our public school journey in Mt. Lebanon. Nary a day goes by without hearing of yet another shooting – often at an educational institution.
I asked my book club the same question my friend asked me. We talked about how awkward and difficult it would be to have this conversation with another parent. Two members have younger kids and therefore are still at the stage where they know the other families.
Another member pointed out that you never know who might have a gun at home. “It might be people you know, but you just didn’t know this one thing about them,” she said. She was then asked if she had a gun. She doesn’t, but her father has always had them in the house, which meant having some very difficult conversations when her kids were little.
Would it surprise you to learn that the Pew Research Center says that Americans with young children in their home as just as likely as other adults to have a gun in their household? They found that about a third of all Americans with children under 18 have a gun in the home, including 34 percent of families with children younger than 12.
I contacted the Mt. Lebanon Police Department to see what I could learn about this area in particular. They don’t have information on the number of permits issued to residents mostly due to the constitutional protections granted by the Second Amendment, but Chief of Police Aaron Lauth said the MLPD investigates very few incidents each year involving firearms. There is the occasional investigation where the use of a gun is threatened or someone is charged with carrying a firearm while not properly licensed, but these types of incidents are rare.
And as we all know, it only takes one curious child to cause an incident. Many parents think their kids don’t know where their guns are kept, but a 2006 study found that three-quarters of them do.
Perhaps the question we should really be asking is about safety. The friend who posed the initial question knows a marshal with a gun safe. According to his wife, the first thing he does when he comes home is to go straight to his room, where he takes off his gun and puts it in a safe that only opens with his fingerprint.
Rather than asking if there are guns in the house, a better way to approach the issue is to get to the heart of the matter: “Do you have any unlocked guns in the house?” By focusing on the lock aspect rather than the gun itself, this question has been well received says a friend who employs this strategy. She even preempts the question by saying, “Just wondering, since I have a curious kid…”
When it comes to the health and well being of our children, many of us have gotten used to asking questions of other parents, such as inquiring about food restrictions or how much screen time is allowed. I’d rather deal with asking a few uncomfortable questions than have my child become yet another statistic.