Play dates are common, everyday events that are a rite of passage and kids love them. But for me they’ve been a source of serious concern.
My daughter was in the middle of kindergarten and had not been on a single parentless play date. We were getting asked regularly and I was always coming up with an excuse as to why we couldn’t. I was paralyzed and full of extreme fear that an unsecured gun would find its way into the play date. It seemed that there were weekly reports of accidents happening with kids finding loaded, unsecured guns and the unimaginable happening. I could not bring myself to let her go, without me, into these dangerous things we call play dates.
Then it happened …
I was cornered with an invite to a play date unprepared without an excuse at hand. I looked at this lovely mother that I had gotten to know over a six-month period of time and blurted out “Do you have any guns in your home and if so, where do you keep them?” My heart was racing and my face was as hot as fire as she looked at me shocked and replied “No, we don’t have any guns. Why have I not been asking this question myself?”
I ask every single new family that we meet. Usually the response is just like that first mom’s. It brings on a great conversation about why this is such an important discussion to be having. It was uncomfortable at first. So much so that I would not ask and therefore didn’t allow her to have the same experiences her friends were having. But how well do we REALLY know the families we see for a few minutes at drop off and pick up? Isn’t it just being a good parent to ask a few important questions before allowing your kids to play at a friend’s home without your supervision? I was concerned at first that it might offend someone, as if I didn’t trust them. But then after reading another tragic story of a child killed by an unsecured gun, I realized that if that simple question offended them, they were not the people we needed to be friends with. It’s simple really. I have one job to do, and that is to protect my child. If that offends you, well it’s best we don’t go any further in this friendship.
Of course, there is also the possibility that the parent says “Yes, we own guns and they are up, in the closet, the kids don’t know it’s even up there.” My response would be “Well, thank you for being honest. However, we will not be having a play date at your home. Your daughter is welcome to come to our home. We would love to have her.”
It’s tricky. You have to be prepared for whatever answer might be given, and if you are not prepared to act on the answer, why bother asking in the first place?
Some people, when they see my social media posts urging gun owners to store their guns empty and locked in a safe, think that I am against the right to bear arms. That is not the case. I am not trying to take a stance on the Constitution. I am, however, trying to educate gun owners on the fact that their gun is not “hidden” in their night stand, top closet shelf, etc. The fact that you have told your children to never touch the gun does not protect the other children that visit your home and are curious. It does not protect against peer pressure. It doesn’t negate the fact that a child does not have the ability to comprehend an action today is sometimes forever. The stakes are so high, a child’s life, why would anyone risk it? One study found that for every time a gun is used legally in self-defense at home, there are four unintentional shootings, seven criminal assaults or homicides, and 11 attempted or completed suicides.
Owning a gun is a very personal decision and of course a constitutional right, I simply encourage you to exercise your rights safely and do not put the responsibility of life and death in a child’s hand.
Gun safety is also a conversation in our home. It is our responsibility to inform our children about the power and danger of guns. We have talked about what to do if and when you might come across a gun at a friend’s house. I encourage you to continue the conversation with your kids, your friends and family. And if you own a gun, PLEASE exercise your rights responsibly by storing your gun empty and in a safe.
This post was originally published in 2016 and is updated regularly.