Asking friends about guns is like asking about their underwear. Not in the pediatric office, but at home, on the street, and in the neighborhood. Hear me out…

My next-door-neighbor (NDN) is a stay at home dad (SAHD). On most days, he runs his household and wrangles 8 and 6-year-old boys until his wife joins him after work. The three (or four) of them seem to weave and pedal through life, on and off their bikes. I can see them coming and going throughout the day; it’s my crystal ball of sorts as to what life with 2 boys may look like about 5 years from now…

Last Friday, NDN approached me from his porch. We often talk, porch-to-porch, about life, the trees, our favorite noodle shop, or the weather. Last Friday, it was different. He said, “You should write a post about gun violence.” I said, “Yeah, I know, I should write about 2 million posts…”

But then he framed the issue for me. And I knew he was right.

His 8-year-old had just come home from a friend’s house. While playing at the boy’s home, the two 8 year-olds came upon a BB gun. They thought it was loaded. Knowing exactly what it was, NDN’s son convinced his friend not to touch it (or so the story goes). He came home and told his dad the saga. NDN was stunned. It’s always what we don’t think of that takes our breath away while raising kids. NDN never thought he left his child in a dangerous situation when he dropped him off to play. Hearing about the BB gun made him wonder if he should be asking more questions.

As I got to thinking about it, I went back out to the porch. We talked about it a bit more. My kids are young; we don’t drop them off yet for play dates. But suddenly, I instantly knew the dilemma. First on the list of questions for a generous family, that would invite my child into their home for an afternoon, wouldn’t be, “Do you have a gun in the house?” It’s a seemingly personal question for some reason. Almost like, “Does your wife wear lacy underwear?”

Point is, it feels like a personal question. But it’s also a practical one. And it may be a necessary one, too. Over 8 million children have access to firearms in our country. The AAP says, “Even if you don’t have guns in your own home, that won’t eliminate your child’s risks. Half of the homes in the United States contain firearms, and more than a third of all accidental shootings of children take place in the homes of their friends, neighbors, or relatives.”

NDN helped drive this point home.

Of course, we do all sorts of the uncomfortable things to protect our children. It starts with pregnancy, followed closely by losing all sense of a personal life while raising toddlers, and rounds off with paying for college. But asking about guns in the homes of their friends is one of those things I’ve never thought to talk about in clinic. Thanks, NDN-SAHD for the perspective. Please let us know how it goes when you ask about the gun at the next play date.

Mama Doc’s Tips for Protecting Your Children From Firearms:

  • It’s my belief that guns have no place in a home with children. I remember the 16-year-old who shot himself in high school. I remember my middle school student who was shot and killed just outside the school in 1997. Before you hold up your NRA signs, and/or start your internal rant, I’ll say this: if there is a gun in a home and I’m (or you’re) not going to change that, there are things you can do to protect yourself, your children, and your community. Read these tips.
  • Get over it being awkward to ask about guns. Asking saves lives. It isn’t underwear. Ask supervising parents if they have guns in their home before play dates or sleepovers. Don’t make assumptions; ask relatives, too.
  • If a gun is in your home, it should be stored UNLOADED, in a LOCKED case, and inaccessible to children. Ammunition should be stored separately. Hide the keys to the case.
  • BB guns are guns. And if your child has access to the internet, they can make one. I googled BB gun and found all sorts of info. Look at this make your own BB gun video. The reality is that it is your job to talk with children about guns–early and often.