“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.



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

  1. Thanks for sharing my new year’s resolution Holly. I am looking forward to meaningful conversations with other parents about creating the world that we, and our children, need (and yes, dream about). That Nancy Lanza had a gun legally (more than one) that was used in the Sandy Hook disaster by her son is an overwhelming tragedy and worthy of deep reflection and transformation now and long into the future.

      • Will do. I am researching gun buy-backs. I think there is a need for gun buy-backs as well as gun buybacks that provide both information and resources for parents who own guns to return all or all but one of their guns (from my research it seems that many gun owners are going to buybacks returning many but not always all of their guns) and put the money towards a gun safe along with the skills training and support around keeping a gun in one’s home, if they are choosing to keep a gun. I don’t want to be in a home with a gun but if I decide to be I want there to be a conversation and a tour of how the gun owner (who I assume will be a friend, neighbor or someone I am close with otherwise I won’t be in their home) is “responsible.” We care about our friends and our children and I think we all care enough to have real conversations and be open to solving these problems as parents, families, communities. Gun owners can choose to keep their ownership of guns completely private (and not talk about it with their friends) but if they choose to do this I certainly have a choice of how to relate with them and whether I enter their home. I believe it is the personal nature of gun ownership, for too many gun owners, that creates larger barriers to meaningful connections. If you or any readers is interested in gun buybacks and supporting them where they live I am game to connect.

  2. Love this, Holly! Fantastic writing and message! I share your dream! Bravo to you!

    I had a childhood friend who accidently shot himself through the hand while “looking at” his Dad’s gun. Many, many surgeries later he had most of his hand function back – but not all.

    I remember asking some playdate parents if there were guns in the home when the kids were little. They were always surprised by my question. Offended? I hope not – but if they were – tough! If we Waldorf mamas can ask about media and allergies when discussing play dates, why not guns? A challenge I haven’t had to face yet – how to respond when the answer is, ‘Yes, we have guns but they are locked up.’ My friend’s Dad THOUGHT his gun was locked up too. Scary!

    Pamela Gun free household

    • Pamela, thank you, as always, for reading and sharing, and your point about your friend’s poor accident is exactly what concerns me – how about that research that 1 in 4 kids have handled their parents’ guns outside their parents’ knowledge? I think we need to be much much more vigilant about where our kids play, to avoid these tragedies. :)

  3. Hi, Holly,

    I appreciated very much your blog about asking parents about guns in the home in the NYT Motherlode Blog. In view of the many comments, both pro and con, this is a highly charged issue.

    As a physician, I feel that gun ownership is both a personal and public health issue that deserves a great deal more attention. The magnitude of the gun problem was illustrated by a “Slate” online magazine article recently published as a follow-up to the Newtown massacre. The article asked “How many people have been killed by guns in the US since Newtown?” Answer: 409 (source: http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/crime/2012/12/gun_death_tally_every_american_gun_death_since_newtown_sandy_hook_shooting.html). And this is only the period between December 14 and Jan 1!

    Readers should also be aware that the Florida State legislature recently passed a law prohibiting physicians in that state from asking about guns in the home. A lawsuit followed challenging the constitutionality of that law and it is currently under appeal.

    Thank you for bringing up this important subject. I hope parents will feel more free to ask about guns in the homes their children visit. I personally hope that we’ll at least go back to outlawing assault weapons and weapons with large magazines. We also need to pass and enforce stricter laws requiring background checks for gun owners and technologies that prevent accidental discharge of weapons. Clearly, the answer is not more guns.

  4. Frank, thank you for reading and for sharing this very pertinent info. As a matter of fact, I shared that Slate piece in the comments section of the NYT just now! I think it is a personal and public health issue, and I couldn’t sit idly by and not do anything about it. I had to write.

    The answer is not more guns: I couldn’t agree more.

  5. Holly –
    I am a gun owner and I feel very passionately about educating my two boys, now 15 and 12, and the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts that I have led for ten years, about gun safety, Yes, you can and should ask if there are guns in this or that house, and stay out of my house if you wish, etc. But are you always going to be there to ask that question?

    I live in Kentucky, which is the #1 state for gun ownership, and I just assume that most any house the boys go to will have at least one.

    The only thing I can do as a parent is instill in my sons, as my parents did, the real danger and critical importance of doing the right thing when they see a gun is out in an inappropriate place – in other words, not at a shooting range or in an appropriate shooting area.

    I wrote these down for my sons when they were much younger – when my oldest was 5. You don’t have to wait long for an “appropriate time”. Just watch the newspaper for the next story of a 7 yo boy shooting his 4 yo sister. That kind of thing happens all the time. Use that to explain that these things can and do happen, and that you do not want THEM to ever be in the paper like that. So, the rules:

    #1 – Tell an adult. Not a cousin, an older brother or sister. Call ME on the phone if you have to, but immediately leave the area and get an adult in that household involved in the situation. The kid who has “sneaked” the gun out may never forgive them for “snitching”, but at least everyone will be alive to talk about it.

    #2 – Do NOT touch the gun, try to unload it, etc. Even though my sons have firearms experience, every gun is different. Even experienced gun handlers accidentally discharge a firearm they aren’t familiar with! Do not try to show off your gun skills, or be the hero. Let the adult put the gun safely away!

    #3 ALWAYS treat the gun as if it is loaded! Doesn’t matter if the barrel is laying on the bench and the trigger is in the vice – you never, ever, point it at something you don’t want to shoot. That is the number 1 rule of gun safety. That’s another reason to get away from that room as quickly as possible. The kid that has “sneaked” that gun out is very likely going to point it at something and pull the trigger – and I don’t want that “something” to be you!

    You don’t have to own a gun to teach gun safety. A broomstick or pipe will do. Hand it to each boy and ask them to pass it safely to the next. If they point it at anyone else, even briefly as they move, they lose a point. Etc.

    I hope this helps, although it’s certainly nothing you can’t find many other places. And if you come to my house, I will be glad to show you my gun safe, where my guns and my boys’ guns are kept. My wife and I are the only ones who can open the safe – I have never told the boys the combination. I can take the eye-rolling. :) Thanks and I’ll keep reading your stuff

    • Thanks Chuck. That is very helpful and I appreciate it. I do have some friends that are gun owners and am thinking about some changes to my resolution that focus on the kinds of conversations that I want to have regarding safety, family and community. If you were interested in talking with me I would enjoy learning more about gun safety from a father who owns a gun (and who I don’t know). I think that will make me a better parent and a better friend to my friends as well as inform some of my thinking about how to understand the fear that is very understandable but also very destructive to our communities. If you are interested in connecting my email address is jethro@actionmill.com.

    • Chuck and Jethro, nothing on the planet makes me happier than having a sane and sensible dialogue about keeping kids safe from guns! Thank you both for adding to this conversation and moving it forward. Chuck, I will DEFINITELY do what you said with my boys, this seems perfectly reasonable – as my dad (who grew up in Kentucky/Indiana) said recently, he was taught that if a kid said to him, “hey, look, here’s my dad’s gun, it’s not loaded” – run! So, your tips are more than helpful.

      I am so happy to bring this conversation above the place where everyone disagrees. It has always been this way, and will continue to be so — but if we can respect one another, and all do our best to keep kids as safe as we possibly can, I think as parents we can’t ask for any more than that.

      Thanks, and please come back and share again!!

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