“Talking to Other Parents About Guns” at the NYT Motherlode

Today, a piece I wrote for the New York Times Motherlode blog about whether – and how – parents should talk to each other about guns in the home received some interesting and thought-provoking comments. I thought that writing about guns in this way – for parents, dealing with the reality of the nearly 40% of American households that contain guns, and with the recent reality of so many lost lives that still haunt us – might be an opener for us collectively to attack the issue of keeping kids safe from guns. I enlisted a couple of my friends, one of whom recently outed herself as gun-free on Facebook; she encouraged me to do the same, and I did.

Evidently, other parents have been thinking this way, too —  after the article posted, I received an email from a father in Pennsylvania who has made it his number one New Year’s resolution to not enter any homes that contain guns, and another from a mother who moved into a town where a young girl had just died from an accidental gunshot by her brother. This mother was not at all ashamed to ask each and every parent who spent time with her child if they had firearms, and whether they were locked away safely.

Seasoned parents know, however, that lock and key doesn’t stop some kids — and some of the comments reflected this. “Gunnie” from Texas wrote, “I got my first rifle when I was 12. Single shot 22. At 13, my dad got me a single shot 20 gage shotgun and we went bird hunting. I was instructed on gun safety and n the field followed the training. When I was home alone, I would take the shotgun and play with it, my parents never knew.” I think this should alarm all of us, gun owners and not, that even the best attempts at gun safety education could go awry, especially when kids get big enough to hang out without parental supervision.

Yet some, as always, felt offended that I want to ask about something that is considered “a private matter.” I can’t understand why we can’t collectively agree that keeping kids safe is paramount. This seems as American – actually more so – than any right to any firearm. While I can understand that asking might feel like judgement – some commenters compared it to asking about parental sexual history or driving record – it would be great if we could get past all the assumptions and come together on this. I don’t think that gun owners are bad parents; I think that we have seen horrible things happen to a lot of good people when one person makes a bad decision.

The reason I wrote this piece is because I want to elevate the conversation beyond the two sides – gun owners and non-gun owners – feeling offended by the other. I don’t feel I need to quiz parents on their private histories at all – as a matter of fact, that makes me extremely uncomfortable. But I do think that by talking openly about guns in the home instead of hiding the info, we could come quickly to the mutual understanding that one more child hurt or killed by a gun, whether intentional or accidental, is one too many. From that place of understanding, we could work together to keep all guns away from all children.

That’s my dream, anyway.