No matter how you feel about owning a gun, the fact is every week in this country, two children are shot by other children. Every week. As parents, we often go to extreme measures to protect our children from harm, yet asking other parents whether they have a gun in their home somehow falls off our radar. To keep our kids safe and to avoid a potentially tragic accident, the question begs to be asked. Read on for tips on making this delicate conversation less intimidating, and how to teach our kids about gun safety.
Full disclosure: ask and tell
While it may feel like an invasion of privacy, we should get comfortable asking both old friends and new acquaintances if there’s a gun in their home. Toledo Police Officer Joe Okos advises, “One out of four homes have a firearm. We should be accepting of that, and ask families: ‘Hey just out of curiosity, do you have a firearm in the home?’ Then follow up: ‘Do you keep the firearm locked or secured so that a child isn’t able to get ahold of it?’” Having the conversation may feel awkward at first, but it’s purely a matter of safety. Okos says he has yet to meet a firearm owner that wouldn’t answer these questions honestly, parent to parent.
Often, children know where guns are hidden in the home, and parents underestimate the power of a kid’s curiosity. That’s why proper firearm storage is crucial. “If you’re going to have a gun at home, keep it locked in a safe, or keep the firearm itself locked with a trigger lock. Beyond that, teach every child what to do if they encounter a firearm,” Okos recommends.
Hey kids: hands off all guns
Having an age-appropriate conversation with our kids and instilling a respect for weapons is important no matter what side of the fence we’re on. “We teach our kids not to touch a hot stove, not to hit themselves with a hammer. But we avoid teaching them about firearms. Education is the best means of safety, because if a child understands a firearm is a dangerous item, they will respect it more,” Okos says, adding parents can start teaching kids about gun safety as early as 2 years old.
As for how to get the true danger of a real gun to resonate with a child, Okos urges, “You really have to stress it. I’m very up front with children. I tell them, if you play with a gun there’s a very good chance you or your friend can die. It’s very serious. They need to have the facts. I don’t sugarcoat.”
Stop. Don’t touch. Run away. Tell a grown up.
Officer Okos and Toledo police are teaching kids what to do if they see a gun: Stop. Don’t Touch. Run Away. Tell A Grown Up. A program, with mascot Eddie the Eagle, developed by the National Rifle Association, teaches kids ages pre-K to 4th grade about gun safety. Okos says the program is free and available to any group of kids. An 8-minute animated video where Eddie the Eagle teaches kids it’s never safe to touch a gun is viewable here:
It’s your right to ask
So, before your child’s next playdate, ask if there’s an unlocked gun in the house. Still uncomfortable? Preface the question with something like, “My kid gets into everything, so I was wondering”… or “I’ve been talking to my child about safety lately, and it got me thinking”… but DO ask. It’s not about politics; it’s about safety.