Asking about guns in houses where your child plays

We can all reduce the likelihood of accidental shootings.

Close-up of child's hand on gun in open drawer

guns hurt and kill; it’s a simple fact. And while most gunshot wounds and deaths are the result of an attack or suicide, unintentional injuries happen all the time, including to and between children. In the six years between January 1, 2015 and December 31, 2020, there were at least 2,070 accidental gunshots by children under the age of 18, resulting in 765 deaths and 1,366 injuries, according to Everytown Research and Policy.

If you’re a parent—or even if you’re not—there are a number of ways you can help reduce the chances of an accidental shooting.

Why is it important to talk to children about gun safety?

Children are naturally curious, and guns are ubiquitous in the media and video games that children watch all the time. Many don’t really understand how dangerous guns can be, and most don’t know how to tell if a gun is loaded.

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According to the Pew Research Center, three in 10 Americans own a gun and four in 10 live in a household with one. Not surprisingly, 34% of children in the US live with at least one firearm in the household. While it is recommended that guns be locked and ammunition locked separately, less than half of US families with children and guns actually do so.

What steps can parents take regarding gun safety?

If you have a gun and a child in your household, please lock the gun and ammunition separately. And make sure your kid doesn’t know how to unlock one or both. Children know more than most adults realize.

If your child is playing in other children’s homes, you need to think about gun safety — and ask. Many people are uncomfortable with asking; They worry that asking questions could be viewed as invasive or judgmental. But it’s neither. It’s simple security.

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The best way to do this is to make it a routine and make it a part of other questions to ask before sending your child to someone else’s home. You could say, “Hey, I have some questions that I always ask before sending my kid anywhere, just to be safe.” Then you could ask things like:

  • “Who will be at your house and how do you handle supervision?”
  • “Do you have a pool?” (If so, other security and surveillance questions are important.)
  • “Anyone smoke?” (This is especially important if your child has asthma or other breathing problems.)
  • “Do you have pets?” (This is important for allergies, if your child is afraid of animals, and to find out if there are any animals that may be aggressive.)
  • “Anyone have allergies?” (So ​​your child doesn’t bring food that could cause problems.)
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Additional questions may be asked depending on the situation. When it comes to weapons, you should ask yourself the following question:

  • “Do you have an unlocked gun in your house?”

If the answer is yes, you have options. You can either ask them to please close it (and ask more questions about supervision), or if you’re not sure if the family can or will close it, say, “I’m so sorry, but I can’t my child.” If it’s a play date, you can offer to host it at your home or take the kids somewhere else, like a local park.

You may be surprised or offended, sure. But it’s a risk worth taking to protect your child’s safety and maybe even their life.

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