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

  1. 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.

  2. 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!

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

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