How do we bring up gun safety with our kid — and the parents of our child's friends?

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International readers, you may want to skip this post as this question is uniquely relevant to United States culture.

Gun Con © by yuichirock, used under Creative Commons license.
We don't own guns, but we live in an area where many people do. I thought I had more time to consider this issue, but one of my child's preschool friends recently "shot" at me with a finger gun — "I am shooting you" — and I realized that the gun issue is coming sooner than I realized. My son so far seems pretty oblivious, but not for long.

My son's friend's mother has also invited my son to a play date, and this is somebody with whom I would generally feel comfortable leaving my son alone without me there… yet I now find myself wondering: are there guns in the house? If so, how secure are they? I have no idea as to what would be the most appropriate way to ask the boy's mother, and I certainly don't want to imply a critique of gun ownership (an issue I believe is very complex). I also feel that I need to prepare my son for a situation in which a play friend might know where the family gun is — and go get it — without completely freaking my son out OR making guns seem super interesting.

My question is three-fold:

What limits have your families set for toy/pretend guns, how are you communicating the potential dangers of real guns, and how do you bring up the topic of gun and weapon safety with the parents of your kid's friends?

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  1. This is a great question. We are in a similar situation- we do not have a gun but live in a rural area where most people do.
    My children are now 5 and 7, and I have never let them own a toy gun (my reasoning is that I do not want to de-sensitize them regarding the seriousness of the weapon), and have let them know that guns are absolutely not toys, and that if you do not know how to properly use one, you can kill yourself or one of your friends.
    We often talk about the gun shots we hear in the woods close by, and how when at grandpa's house you never, ever go near the (unloaded) gun that they leave out near the window (my children are never there unsupervised by us).
    I hope that by having frequent, honest discussions about weapons, they understand how dangerous guns can be to children and if they are ever in a situation where there is a gun out, they will not touch it and tell an adult.
    I would love to hear how other people have approached this topic with their children.

    11 agree
  2. I grew up in a hunting family. The rule was that you *never* pointed any gun at someone. This included toy guns. I definitely remember that this rule was taken very seriously. Interestingly we were also allowed to fire a gun at a can at a fairly young age after a lengthy safety lecture. This meant that guns were not really a mystery and we weren't tempted to play with them to see what they could do.

    1 agrees
    • This is so interesting! I never would have even thought of this — that allowing guns to be used at targets can be a way to teach gun safety and demystify guns — and also emphasize that they aren't to be pointed at people. Very interesting!

      1 agrees
    • This was how I was raised, too – never ever point a gun (even a toy) at people (or pets). The only exception was nerf!

      1 agrees
    • That's pretty much how it is in my family too. Guns were tools, not toys. We knew guns could kill animals, because we saw guns kill animals–the squirrels eating the nuts in my grandparent's orchard, or various other animals for food. They weren't some mysterious, forbidden and therefore intriguing object.

      Most often, the accidents that happen with guns and people are because the person holding the gun has no idea what they're doing. I think the best way to deal with dangerous things like guns is to educate: This is what it is, this is what it does, this is why it's dangerous, this is how you use it.

      1 agrees
  3. I am very interested in the responses here. We live in suburban SC where guns are neither uncommon nor prevalent. My husband has a CWP and owns 2 handguns, which are kept loaded in a small safe. I used to be anti-gun, and have turned over a new leaf as my husband has become very knowledgeable of gun laws and safety. Our daughter is 9 months old, so we have a couple years before this becomes relevant, but I am wondering now- should I disclose before playdates that we own guns? How do we introduce our daughter to the concept that guns are NOT toys?

  4. I also grew up in a house with guns as my father was on the USMC Rifle and Pistol teams. I remember my dad's constant talks about gun safety before I ever remember actually seeing a gun. He was always clear that they were not toys. He also was a gun safety instructor and used the "Eddie the Eagle" gun safety program. Granted, it has been years and years since I've seen any Eddie the eagle tools but they are still available. This may or may not be helpful at least on the front of teaching that guns are dangerous weapons and safety matters involving them.

    4 agree
  5. The NRA's gun safety program promotes this mantra:

    If you see a gun:

    Don't Touch.
    Leave the Area.
    Tell an Adult.

    I think it's a start, but not enough. We don't have kids yet, but as a gun owning household, we have had a lot of conversations about teaching children gun safety. Number one is that a gun may never be pointed at a person, or living animal. I suspect "finger guns" and need guns and water guns will be exceptions to this rule, because I think violent play is natural and normal, and to an extent, healthy for children, but I would much rather them use play swords etc to do it.
    There will be no realistic play guns in the house. There may be unrealistic toy guns. My partner feels very strongly about this, as there have been a few instances where young teens have been shot by police or other people who think they are pulling a real gun, and it's just a toy that looks real. (Yes toys are supposed to have the orange cap but that's the last bit you see).
    Our children will be exposed to guns fairly young, in that they will be allowed to hold one (unloaded, safety on, pointed at a safe backstop, highly supervised) from a young age, and taught to properly handle one, and even shoot, at age appropriate ways. I would much rather my children see a gun lying around and know how to check that it is unloaded, unload if if it is loaded, and put the safety on and store it away safely rather than be paralyzed with uncertainty. That's why I think for young kids the NRA's catchphrase is helpful, it give little kids a singsong way to remember what to do if they see a gun in uncontrolled situations.
    Also, I know some people may differ, but to the best of my knowledge, I will not have our children around unlocked guns. All our guns will be locked properly, and I feel very strongly that I will ask my father in law to lock up the gun he keeps unlocked for protection before we visit with the kids. (I may do this next time we come to visit. I'm thrilled to see his guns and I'd love to shoot some of his collection sometime but I'm really uncomfortable with the idea of an unlocked gun.)
    Oh and I'm not worried at all about the few friends we have (in a more gun friendly area) who regularly concealed carry. I know those specific individuals are responsible about their guns, and maintain control of them, an wouldn't leave them lying around.

    Since we live in an area where gun ownership is fairly uncommon (not actually true, there is a lot of gun related gang violence, but it is a very racially and economically segregated community, and gun ownership in our social circle is very rare, as well as the community out children's friends will likely be in (our religious community and the homeschooling community)) I'm not sure how much I will need to ask other parents about unsecured guns, it's really unlikely my kids will encounter them. Seriously, people find it shocking that my partner or I have ever shot a gun, much less own one.

    6 agree
    • Thanks for the lengthy response. This is very interesting. I will admit I'm pretty anti-NRA, so I never would have even thought to look at their gun safety materials, and they might be worth a look. I'm reminded that my Dad took several gun classes as a child and showed me the certificates as he was cleaning out his father's basement, and I was sort of taken aback, but the truth is, my Dad has never had any fascination with guns — and so that young exposure might have been very good for him. I am not sure if they were NRA classes or not though. Anyway, thank you!

  6. we have guns and a gun safe that is kept in the man cave in the basement. children don't go in the man cave, even supervised. i say to the woman who brings her daughter over: "we have guns locked up in a gun safe." i think it's reasonable to ask "if you have guns, i presume they are locked up. if you have unlocked guns or other accessible weapons, please let me know." that way, no one has to tell you they have guns if they don't want to (my husband doesn't like to tell everyone we have guns) but everyone has to reassure you that your children are safe in their home. i find this request reasonable, and i don't care if i piss people off; my kid's life is more important.

    8 agree
  7. This might be an easier thing to talk about/teach if you have guns around, I'm not sure how you bring it up if you don't. I know all kids won't respond to rules the same way, but this is what I did with my daughter.

    Guns went very firmly into the 'for grownups only' category, along with things like driving. Absolutely non-negotiable. Always use your "Serious and Concerned Mommy because I Love You" voice when discussing the seriousness of this rule. (Not necessary when talking about guns in general, I've found, only about gun rules.)

    Three basic rules for gun safety, which my daughter knew (and followed) even as a toddler:

    1.Kids don't even touch guns without mom or dad's permission. (Permission from another adult doesn't count.)

    2.If you find a gun, go and tell a grownup right away. Even if you're not sure it's real.

    3.Guns never, ever, EVER get pointed at people. This rule applies to toy guns as well.
    (Expanding on that rule; you don't point a gun at anything you don't intend to shoot, and you don't shoot anything unless you plan to eat it or it plans to eat you.)

    As for toy guns, well the 'don't point guns' rule takes a lot of the fun out of them. Especially squirt guns. I'm ambivalent (and probably not much fun…) You can't assume that kids can tell the difference between a real gun and a toy gun. The best thing is to teach them to treat all guns as real (and loaded) until you absolutely know they're not.

    There's nothing wrong with a little bit of fear when you're dealing with a dangerous thing. Imagine that guns are a poisonous snake. Which doesn't mean your kid can't examine or learn about them in a safe environment, he probably should if you think he might be around them, you just don't want him poking one with a stick.

    6 agree
    • The don't point at anyone rule is definitely the most important. The don't shoot anything you don't plan to eat rule could be modified to don't shoot anything ALIVE you don't plan to eat. Nothing wrong with shooting targets, tin cans, etc. as long as they are properly set up. I learned to shoot at six, and learning to do it properly meant that I learned about safety. People hear that I was shooting at six and think I came from some kind of redneck family, but I know more about gun safety than most people who are then afraid of guns. Yes, guns can be dangerous, but so can cars. And like cars, they can be both useful and fun when used properly and safely.

      6 agree
      • Of course there are exceptions – to nearly every rule – but I think it's probably best to stick with simple to begin with. Less information to get wrong. Especially if you're dealing with younger or more excitable kids. Introduce the exceptions as they become relevant.

        My daughter had a BB rifle when she was eight, and was allowed to target shoot with supervision. At sixteen she's moved up to a .22, but still needs supervision. She also has airsoft guns, which she takes out with her friends and they shoot at each other.
        A sixteen-year-old has a slightly better grasp on the difference between real and pretend than a four-year-old does. Most days.

        She's also owned a real 6' longbow since she was eleven. Modified gun safety rules apply.

        5 agree
    • Thank you! I agree that it might be easier to teach some of this if there are guns in the home — which might mean we need to find a friend who has them and work out an arrangement for some gun safety lessons there. I also agree that some fear is OK!

  8. Do you trust that your children's friends' parents keep poisonous substances out of the reach of their kids? Knives? Matches? Sharp objects? Then why wouldn't you trust that they secure their guns? Teach your kids that guns can be dangerous if used incorrectly (just like you would teach them not to play with matches) and then trust their friends' parents as much as you would about anything else. We had guns with safety locks on hanging in our living room, and none of my friends were ever told not to come over because of it. Teach respect, teach safety, and you should be fine.

    5 agree
    • related… I have no kids but friends with kids and I keep my guns locked, out of the way, but not hidden. My friends know I have guns (I'm rural and use them to protect my livestock), but I figured that if I was a parent I'd rather they were visibly locked. I also think it makes them less interesting or mysterious. I fully intend a similar approach when I have kids.

      When my sister and I were younger we were told at some point that Dad had a shotgun in the house and when left alone we went looking for it just out of curiosity because it was a mysterious thing. They did a good job putting it out of the way because we never found it :)

  9. Hi there,

    Not a parent, but as someone who grew up around guns, I think the best thing would be to find a trusted friend, family member, or police officer, to introduce your kids to guns in a safe, educational environment before they encounter them accidentally. My parents are both in law enforcement, and my father came from a line of hunters, so I saw guns many times as a child – always in a very controlled setting.

    When my dad would lay out his and my mom's service weapons on a blanket in the family room to clean the parts and load the magazines, my older sister and I were not allowed in the room, but could watch from the doorway while our parents explained what they were doing, and what each weapon was, and how it was used. We were taught about a safety, never ever pointing a gun at anyone, that guns don't work the way you see in movies, etc.

    I didn't fire a gun until I was 12, a hunting rifle aimed at some cans at my uncle's home in the woods. This was preceded by yet another lengthy lecture about gun safety. I enjoyed it, and ended up taking riflery in college, and shooting pistols and revolvers at the police academy range with my parents.

    Now, as a 25 year old woman living alone, my father has strongly suggested I keep a gun in my apartment to protect myself. Having grown up so respectful of firearms and gun safety myself, I am still cautious about this. It's been years since I've done any shooting, and I'd like to re-familiarize myself with weapons and make sure I'm still a good shot before having something so dangerous in my apartment.

    In conclusion, being raised with a respect, knowledge, and understanding of guns was great for me. I understand their power, but would not freak out if I had encountered one at a friend's house when I was a kid. You could try calling your local police to see if they have any gun safety courses or an off-duty cop who could be paid to spend an hour giving a talk to your kids.

    9 agree
    • Your point here is my main take away from this whole exchange — we need to find somebody who can, in age appropriate steps, help our children learn about gun safety. Thank you.

      1 agrees
  10. For the third point, could you bring it up right before your kid goes to their home for the first time? Ask it the same way and at the same time you would ask who is supervising the kids or at what time they'll be done.

    EX: "I don't mean to pry, but I have to ask. Are there any guns in your house? If so, what kind of safety measures do you use?"

    For the record, guns, pools, and who is supervising are the three things I plan to ask about once I've got kids old enough to visit friends' houses.

    4 agree
    • Good point — other questions to ask, too, not just guns! And as somebody said above — matches, knives, poisons, etc! (and alcohol would be another one)

  11. When i was in kindergarten i was shown an educational video put together by the NRA (other than lobbying, their big thing is teaching gun safety) about what to do if I, as a small child, found a gun. So when i did find my fathers pistol in his sock drawer I 1) didnt touch it and 2) immediately told an adult. Later i decided to go back to play with it only to find it gone. Stupid video 😛 but it accomplished exactly what it was supposed to. If you can find any educational videos like this, i woyld strongly recommend them.

    3 agree
    • Thanks. I would never have even thought to give the NRA the time of day, but perhaps I should look up their gun safety stuff, or see if there are other non-NRA materials out there. Thanks!

  12. What about things like soft pellet guns and paintball guns? My brothers own a plethora of both, most of which look very very real. Though they mostly use them for target shooting, they do occasionally horse around and shoot each other. As an adult it seems like harmless play, but I wonder how to address it for my future kids sakes.

    2 agree
  13. I gew up with guns in the house (my father's). I also grew up with multiple other kinds of weapons (my mom's, since she was a sensei at the time).

    My parents taught me gun safety, I think, in the best way. They did it in a very calm, gentle way. They explained to me that a gun was a lot like a knife (which was also in the house), or a sword (had a few of those) or any other weapon. Weapons are for adults who have been trained to use them. When I demonstrated maturity and the time was right, if I wanted, I could start to learn how to use them. But, and I think this is important, its also possible to acknowledge that a kid might be interested in weapons and might have questions. And if they do, you can answer them without suggesting that its okay to handle a gun. Its okay to tell them that a gun can really hurt them or even kill IF its mishandled. I knew a lot of kids growing up whose parents took an approach that made guns out to be horrible – and it often had the opposite effect of heightening the child's interest.

    I think the key, to me, is to be calm and collected when discussing guns with your son. You can be honest and firm without making fear a part of the conversation. I also think it helps to maybe, at least not now, bring personal values into the conversation (like gun rights or pacifism). I think it would likely be more sufficient to limit this conversation, at least, to facts and talking about safety. Otherwise, it may get confusing. I also think it can help to use this conversation to have a talk about what your son knows about guns NOW – most of it probably comes from the media (and therefore, is inaccurate!). Make sure he knows that guns he sees on tv/movies/wherever is make-believe and that real guns are not like that.

    3 agree
    • I agree — calm and collected — and also keep the bigger issues out. (This is a struggle for me in general in parenting — I am the parent who always uses too many words!)

  14. I just want to add one thing that I did not see mentioned. From my experience with teaching kids about gun safety, using a reactive target like a watermelon is the best learning tool. It seems to be the most effective at helping demonstrate the magnitude of what happens when you pull the trigger.
    If guns are not available to you for demonstration there are several episodes of myth busters that have lots of material you could use. Though I really feel that hands on gun safety training is the most effective.

    4 agree
    • Thank you — wow, I can totally see the impact of a watermelon. Great idea.

      1 agrees
    • ya, unrelated sort of, but i remember when i was a tiny kid and i was playing with a baseball bat. my dad was watching me play with it and decided that i wasn't really aware of what a bat could do, so he took me outside and hit an apple into the fence- the apple was totally destroyed. after that i had more respect for bats.

      Similarly, he had an old and not working gun locked up in a box in the closet. He would show it to us kids if we asked and let us touch it so it became less mysterious, but was very clear that if he ever caught us even poking at the box when he wasn't around, we would be dead.

      Also, i did have a fairly realistic looking AK-47 toy gun when I was little. One day i tried to take it to the bank and was heartbroken when my mom made me hide it under a bush outside the bank when she realized i had it. That was the last realistic toy gun allowed in the house (i was the oldest). We had BB guns but treated them as if they were real.

      I disagree with applying 'no pointing' rules to nerf and squirt guns though, it kind of weakens the rule in general by applying it to silly things. I think 'no pointing' rules should apply to real guns and perhaps realistic looking guns only.

  15. Three words: Locked gun cabinet. Ammo should always always be locked separately. My dad is a retired cop so I was raised that guns are tools, and while they shoud not be feared they need to be respected. Some basic rules to teach your kids:

    Never touch a firearm without permission

    Assume every firearm you see is loaded with the safety off

    Never ever run up to a parent when they have a firearm in their hand, wait for them to tell you it is okay

    1 agrees
  16. I am an international reader, so don't have much advice for what is probably a uniquely American issue. But I also don't want to skip the post – it's really interesting to read about the parenting challenges faced in other countries, contexts and cultures.

    11 agree
    • Me too! Though mostly all of the responses make me glad that this is not something I will ever really have to think about.

      6 agree
  17. One thing I've noticed with various comments regarding what happens when you point a gun is that they don't seem to lend enough to the seriousness of that type of weapon. Any time you fire a gun, someone could die. If you are shooting at a person or animal, regardless of where you are aiming, that person or animal could die because the way a bullet reacts to being fired is unpredictable. People seem to think that shooting at an arm or leg is less harmful because we generally see cops and military personnel shooting for the chest. However, they only do this because the chest is the largest, easiest to hit target. Even if you're not aiming a gun at a person or an animal, you have issues with ricochet or a bullet that was shot in the air falling down and injuring or killing someone (ever see 1,000 Ways to Die on Spike TV? There's an episode where a man dies from a bullet that fell from the air after someone shot a gun into the sky to celebrate). I have relatives who hunt, so I've been around guns and I'm not anti-gun, but I think it's important to really stress that they don't just hurt, they kill, and you can't come back from that.

    I also don't necessarily see a problem with using toy guns that are very obviously toys, but I think it's important to have an age appropriate discussion about death when you bring even toy guns into the picture. I was babysitting a five year old cousin around the time my grandfather died, and while playing, he illustrated that as a disciplinary measure, the toy parents of the toy child killed that child. Later on, after the toy child wasn't in trouble anymore, he came back to life. My cousin was aware of the death in the family and had heard adults talking about it, but he didn't have a concept of what death was and didn't know that it was permanent. I like the idea of shooting a watermelon or something else reactive that someone else mentioned to demonstrate the damage, but I think age appropriate discussions about death would be a good fit when explaining gun safety.

    4 agree
    • Good points. We also haven't had to deal with death yet, so I know that is a completely abstract comment for our child. Sometimes it comes up in stories or books, but we haven't yet had a person or a pet loss. I dread it (as I am still working through death myself!), but I know it is all part of things. And yes, that is the horrific thing about guns. They can maim and kill.

      1 agrees
  18. I grew up in a home with guns. They were old, collector-type guns, always locked in a safe, and my dad didn't even own ammo for any of them. We were taught basic gun safety, and I enjoy shooting at a range every once in a while. My husband owns a gun, but it's kept in the attic/has no ammo. (It was his great-grandfather's.)

    Some family members of ours keep a loaded gun in the bedframe beside their mattress. They have a toddler. It scares me to death, and I'm not looking forward to the conversation once our daughter gets old enough for this to be an issue. If they were just friends, it wouldn't be a big deal to not go over, but because they're family, it definitely makes things a little more awkward.

    1 agrees
    • Good luck to you. That would terrify me too.

      1 agrees
  19. This is a great feed! I was raised very anti-gun/violence and my husband was shooting on his grandfather's farm as soon as his arms could be held out straight. The topic of guns has been an ever evolving topic in our house as he does own a few and has them locked up. It makes me very skittish to know there are weapons in my house but its our house so concessions must be made. He plans to teach our son gun safety as he was taught but our son will also be taught my stance too. My husband lives by the rules all listed above on gun safety.

    From my understanding almost all gun ranges and sometimes police departments have gun safety classes/information. Since you do not have guns in your home maybe introduce him to what a gun looks like, etc that way so he knows what to look for and how to act appropriately.

    3 agree
  20. Like many previous posters, I grew up with guns in our home. My dad was extremely careful with them. The guns were kept in my parents closet, and the ammo was kept in a locked box in my dad's office, on a seperate floor of the house. The guns were never loaded.
    He was an avid hunter, and I never saw the guns out except when he was going on a hunting trip.
    When my brother began to have mental health issues (including an attempted suicide), my dad immediately sold his guns. They no longer keep any in the house.
    I have no idea how to talk to other parents about the issue though. We live in a fairly suburban area, but I know many many people around here are hunters (we live in Wisconsin). My son is only 20 months, but I know the issue will probably come up soon. I hope to be proactive enough to just ask outright. I certainly don't want to criticize those who do own guns, as it is perfectly legal here, but as a parent my child's safety is my first priority, regardless of the feelings of others.

    1 agrees
    • Yes, you are right, at the end of the day, who cares if we are judgey or hurt feelings. Our kids matter most.

      And it is the mental health issue that is most terrifying to me about guns — though that's going to get me going off on another direction that strays from the topic of discussion!

  21. If you're uncomfortable bringing up the gun issue with your child's friend's parent directly, you can use this article. "Hey, I just read this thing online about teaching your kids gun safety. It was really interesting, given that I know so and so has a gun. Do you guys have guns in your house? How do you teach your kid about gun safety?" You get the answers you want, and it sounds like interesting conversational fodder rather than "Do you have guns? Is my kid going to get shot at your house?"
    If you're shy or worried about sounding like you're accusing them of anything, it might make it easier to bring up.

    Also, be ready for your child to possibly show an interest in guns once you start talking about them. The safety rules should be hard and fast, but if they want to shoot a gun, give them a safe place to try it in an age-appropriate manner. I loved shooting when I was a kid, and my dad made me take hunter's safety classes (even though I never actually shot an animal) and I was only allowed to shot at the range, with him. It was fun father-daughter bonding time, I know my way around a gun, and no one was ever in danger.

    9 agree
  22. I live in an area infamous for gun violence, so I totally feel your pain. A boy who I have known since Kindergarten was walking with his sister's girlfriend in the city about a year ago, and someone same up to them, took both their possessions, shot his sister's boyfriend and left him there, a situation that has haunted him ever since. He's not the only young person I know who has been inadvertently involved in a gun violence situation, so obviously I'm a little bit biased towards the anti gun stance. I don't allow children I work with to play with toy guns, because guns are not toys, they are weapons. And even if your child tells you they aren't going to play-shoot other kids, believe me, they will be severely temped, no matter how much of a pacifist their caretaker is. I do allow play bows(Who doesn't want to be Legolas?) and play lightsabers, because things like these have become more symbols of a frachise than weapons, and it;s not like people in our community have been killed by lightsabers. But I draw the line at pretend guns, because guns are out there, and people use them for destruction. No matter what choice you make, I know it will be the right one for your son. Good luck~

    3 agree
    • Oh that's so scary. Good points here. Thank you.

  23. I find this article very interesting, because my wife and I just had this conversation. Our niece (2 Y/O) is going to be visiting us at our house, which is in a very rural area, and my weapons are used in pest control (I raise chickens and have problems with raccoons and possums, and we have a 1 acre pond, complete with muskrat problem) and for target shooting. Due to the nature of what they are used for, such weapons are not usually locked away, but are out so they may be used as needed. Before we have our visitor, all weapons will be locked with a trigger or cable lock, and placed in a safe, inaccessible area with ammunition in another. I feel that this should be adequate. Now, for the hot woodstove, or the electric outlets without covers…

    2 agree
    • Yes you are right — there are other risks and dangers too!

  24. My husband is in law enforcement so we have numerous firearms in our home. They are always locked in a safe, unloaded. I'm not a huge fan of the NRA, but when the time is right I am certainly looking to them for gun safety programs for my daughter (she's 1 now). Like some of the other posters said, never aim a gun at something you don't want to kill. I'm a firm believer that everyone should shoot at gun at least once in their life. Most people only have video games and movies as a reference and don't know what using a real gun is like. When my daughter is old enough, we'll definitely take her to a shooting range.

    I'm not sure how we'll handle toy guns. We certainly won't have any realistic ones. I don't know if I would bring up the question at a playmate's house. I see how it's something that should be addressed, but I feel like there are a lot of potential hazards in any home. Do you ask how their medications and cleaning supplies are secured? I'm not trying to be flip, but I think it's a difficult topic. (Not to bring up, but to handle.) Teaching children not to touch guns and to tell an adult is a good start. I don't really have a good reply.

    My husband and I always joke about the Simpsons' Chief Wiggum quote to his son, "What is your fascination with my forbidden closet of mystery?" We know hiding guns isn't the answer.

    • Very good points — especially that there are many dangers, not just guns.

      And the Simpsons are the source of most wisdom in life!

  25. My family never had guns, and although we were allowed to have toy guns, we weren't allowed to point them at any living thing (personally, I don't have that rule for my son, so long as the toy in question is Day-Glo all over and clearly not real). I was also taught that if I was at a friend's house and there was a gun within our reach that I even thought *might* be real, I was to leave the room immediately, which I did once when I was at a neighbor's house (there was a group of kids, all about maybe 8 or 9 years old, and the boy whose house it was goes, "Hey, wanna see my dad's gun?" and I left and walked home before he even pulled it down out of the closet. Fortunately, nobody got shot, but if someone had, it wouldn't have been me!)

    My point is, teach your kids that guns are for use by an adult or under the very watchful eye of a (sober, generally responsible, and approved by Mom and Dad) adult, and just how dangerous guns really are, and they are unlikely to get shot in an incident like the one that happened to me. The only thing I would stress to my kid that my parents didn't really stress to me is that it's more important to tell an adult if someone, even a friend, is handling a gun, than it is to keep them from getting in trouble, because your friend or someone else could get hurt or killed.

    2 agree
    • Very good idea — getting in trouble is preferable to the alternatives.

  26. I'm Canadian so while handguns are rare around here, many families (at least in the North and rural areas) have hunting rifles. My dad had a few, plus a handgun he had a permit for due to search and rescue work (good for signalling in the bush and scaring off bears!). He kept his guns out of sight and unloaded and made it very very clear from an early age they were absolutely NOT toys. I grew up respecting them and not tempted to play with them.

  27. Thank you everybody for your feedback, especially from those of you who own guns or grew up with guns. I feel like I have lots more ideas now for how to approach this issue. Thank you all!

  28. Thank you so much for posting this question! I've never been a fan of guns, but have grown up around them. My partner grew up with guns, is in the military, and owns a few guns we keep locked up and unloaded at all times. We have been arguing over when it's appropriate to let me son see, or handle any kind of weapon. This post has actually made me rethink my position of the older the better. I never considered how demystifying guns are if you are exposed to them in an age-appropriate way early on. I also thank you for asking how to handle guns at friends' houses. I know some of our friends and family own guns, but I haven't even begun to think of how to approach the topic. I feel much more empowered after reading all of these responses.

  29. I grew up with guns. I now have guns in my home. My boys are 10 and 6. We go to the gun range often as a family. They have their own rifles.

    There has never been a time when there wasn't a gun in the house for them. And education started from the time they could understand "no" or "leave it alone". If guns were out, they were talked about. The rules were reinforced. They were repeated, by us and the children. Toy guns (with the exception of nerf) are not pointed at anyone or any pet. If that happens, they are taken away immediately and we talk about the rules again, and the reason for the rules.

    There are gun safety classes for kids and adults. It's a good idea to take the class, even if you aren't going to own a gun. You never know when you might be in a situation where you need the information. And being informed is always better than the alternative.

  30. My parents' attitude has always been that there is nothing moral that can be done with a gun, no moral person would ever own one, and anyone who owns a gun is trying to kill you. This was not a helpful attitude, especially in Utah, which has been an open-carry NRA hive since forever. When I got married, this led to many bitter battles with my gun-loving parents-in-law. Fast forward to 2011, when I started working for a federal contractor where most of my co-workers were retired military and were not shy about their gun ownership. One of them was a competitive shooter and concealed carry permit instructor, and he asked me a question that turned the issue on its head: "How would you keep your kids safe with a chainsaw in the garage?" That helped me realize that guns are tools and that they, in themselves, are morally neutral. That helped keep my emotions out of the discussion. I ended up taking my son to the gun range to take a class and fire a rifle on his 13th birthday, and that's where we've left it so far.

  31. Reading this and watching the current news about the tragedy in Connectitut I´m thankful to live in a country where it is VERY uncommon to own guns.. I hope some day this will change in the U.S. as well.

    9 agree
  32. I posted the original question and have found everybody's responses so thoughtful and helpful. I value the respect with which the offbeat community handles tough discussions. I only wish we all – with Stephanie and Ariel as moderators – could be the ones to have a discussion about rationale and reasonable gun control measures. There is so much hyperbole on both sides that makes any middle ground seem near impossible to find. After what happened yesterday, this bothers me profoundly. So thanks to you all for your comments on this thread and so many others and to Stephanie and Ariel for the work you do to make this one of the best places I know anywhere for truly listening to and considering the ideas of others and respectfully offering one's own.

    3 agree

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