My son “Josh” is 8 years old and met a new buddy “Brian” at a summer camp in June. Since Josh doesn’t make new friends easily I was really excited for him and he has been spending a lot of time at Brian’s house this summer. Both my husband and I work and Brian’s mom does not so this has also been a great way to keep Josh busy this summer.
My question for you is that my son has started to express an interest in guns out of nowhere. I asked him why and he told me Brian’s dad likes to hunt. I asked if he had seen any guns at the house and he said “maybe,” then he saw the look on my face and said “I don’t think so.”
Obviously there are guns at Brian’s house. I do not want Josh going over there anymore. How do I explain that his future playdates with Brian needs to be here?
Dear Mama Bear:
Thank you for this challenging topic and our phone call, from which I discovered your cousin was shot several years ago in a robbery and nearly died. I can see why you aren’t fond of firearms.
For the record, neither am I. Guns are responsible for injuring or killing 10,000 children in this country every year.
The statistics are wildly varying and thus totally unreliable, so I’ll use my trusty gut-level analysis in place of reasoned logic, as is my usual forte.
Every time I read a story about another child who was playing with a gun and accidentally shot themselves or a friend I feel sick. We live in a gun culture that glorifies violence through music, film, television and video games and even after countless mass shootings of our little ones, our government seems unwilling or unable to fight the NRA enough to get some sensible gun legislation in place.
My very strong preference is that my own son never spend time in a house with guns. Children, but boys especially, are extremely curious about and fascinated with things they are forbidden to touch, which is why they check out the guns and the sex toys when mom and dad are out of sight.
However, I believe you may be overreacting, and here’s why: Brian’s parents could be very responsible gun owners. Yes, they do exist! There are folks out there who keep guns in the home for security and when those guns aren’t being brandished against would-be rapists and thieves out to steal the family silver, they are secured properly out of the reach of children.
I personally don’t think a gun is a good option to keep me safe from those who would do me harm (and let’s face it: you’ve read the hate mail – those people are out there).
The numbers are bleak, as owning a gun has been linked to higher risks of homicide, suicide, and accidental death by gun. For every time a gun is used in self-defense in the home, there are 7 assaults or murders, 11 suicide attempts, and 4 accidents involving guns in or around a home.
Given the fact that 35% of households in this country are occupied by gun owners, most of whom don’t accidentally shoot themselves, others or the family dog, Brian’s parents could very well keep their implements of destruction locked up in a gun safe and take other measures that make the likelihood of an accidental shooting small.
Before you go off half-cocked (ha!) and decide Josh can’t hang out at Brian’s house anymore, you need to have a conversation with Mr. and Mrs. Gun Nut. Here are the highlights:
1. This talk should take place in person, so the next time you are dropping Josh off at Brian’s house ask whichever parent is there if you can talk. From what you told me that will probably be mom.
2. Explain to mom that you are following up on a conversation with your son in which he suggested there may be guns in the house. Then ask her: “do you have guns in your home?”
3. If she says “no,” I think you should take her word for it but follow up with Josh with some more detailed questions. You describe these people as a very nice and normal solid couple so I doubt they have a reason to lie about the presence of firearms in the home.
4. If she says “yes,” you need to ask her to show you the guns and the precautions they take to ensure accidents don’t happen.
After that, Mama Bear, it’s up to you to decide whether you think your son is safe in this home. If they keep a loaded and unsecured handgun in the nightstand, I wouldn’t let your son take a step back in that house. However, if all their guns are locked away and they have instructed little Brian on gun safety, you can breathe a little easier.
Unfortunately, there are still stories every year about children getting shot while playing with their parents’ guns, even when those guns are secured. If my kid can get to level 72628 in World of Warcraft, he may be able to bust a gun safe and play Jesse James.
The fact is you just never know.