A loaded question: Asking about safe gun storage before playdates

Joan Goodchild
Baystateparent Magazine

If a child is planning to spend time with a new friend, there are many questions parents should ask before dropping off for a first playdate. Will an adult supervise play? Are there any pets in the home? Do you have a pool and is it locked? Do you have any rules about screen time or eating treats? These are all important to gauge your child’s level of health and safety while visiting a new home. 

But there is one question often left off the list – and it is a critical one. The question is about guns and safe firearms storage. 

“An estimated 4.6 million children live in homes where they have access to an unlocked or easily accessible gun. Maybe even more concerning, over 70 percent of kids know where that gun is stored in their home,” said Kyelanne Hunter, the Sarah Brady Fellow at Brady United, a national gun violence prevention organization. “That’s why you should ask about firearms, and how they are stored when leaving your child with another family.”

Hunter notes that during the COVID pandemic, gun sales are up. Numbers from the Brookings Institute find almost 3 million more firearms were sold in the months following the start of the pandemic in March than would have ordinarily been sold during those months. And with many families creating so-called educational and social “pods" to keep the virus from spreading, these conversations are more necessary than ever.

There were at 241 unintended shootings by children in 2019, causing more than 100 deaths and nearly 150 injuries, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. 

“When everyday an estimated eight children or teens are shot as a result of family fire, a shooting involving an improperly stored or misused gun found in the home, simply asking about firearms can save your child’s life,” said Hunter. 

The Center for Gun Violence Prevention at Massachusetts General Hospital aims to prevent firearm-related violence and to promote safety in homes and communities. The center is led by pediatric surgeon Dr. Peter Masiakos and Dr. Chana Sacks, both of whom have been personally impacted by gun violence in their lives.

Masiakos urges parents not to feel uncomfortable broaching the topic of firearms in a home.

“The fundamental problem here is the resistance in asking so you don’t upset someone. But it becomes moot if a child is injured or killed,” he said.

Masiakos said storage practices for firearms vary widely from home to home and parents should assume, regardless of location, that the potential for a gun exists in just about any house. Everyone, from gun owners to concerned parents who want to ensure their kids’ well-being, should be open to a discussion about storage and safety.

“You own a gun, you have to talk about it,” said Masiakos. “You need to talk about safely owning a weapon. Children in the home need to know they are around. The same adventurous kid who is looking around for Christmas presents can find a gun. Have the conversation.”

Masiakos also recommends that parents talk to their children about gun safety before leaving them with another family. Advise them not to touch a gun if they find one. To avoid parental bedrooms because that is the area where guns are typically kept. These pointers can go a long way in helping the child stay safe.

“I think the question needs to be asked as you would ask any other safety question,” said Masiakos. “It is unusual for people to get offended if you ask them. I think we have to rethink this whole phenomenon of being uncomfortable about asking questions that provide safety.” 

“Talking about firearms in the home should be like asking about food allergies or other, general care questions when dropping your children off,” added Hunter. “Also, if you are a gun owner, proactively share that your guns are safely stored to friends who bring their kids over. Saying ‘just so you know, we own guns, but they are locked securely and the ammo is locked in a separate safe’ will normalize the conversation and encourage others to ask the important questions in return.”

5 questions to ask before a playdate

Visiting another family's home exposes your child to a new environment. Before a playdate, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents ask these questions. 

 

  1. Who will be watching the children? Will a parent be home, or will another adult caregiver be home? Will older siblings, other adults or relatives be there? 

  2. Do you have a swimming pool or trampoline (or any other things that are potentially unsafe)? If swimming is planned, ask who will supervise. What are the parents’ rules for safety on a trampoline or other activities where children can be injured?

  3. Do you have any guns in your house? If so, how is it stored? Roughly one-third of U.S. homes with children have a gun. Tragedies have occurred when kids found guns that parents thought were hidden.

  4. What are your rules about screen/media use? If you don't want your child to watch movies that are rated higher than PG or PG-13, or to play a video game rated higher than E, let the other parent know.

  5. What pets do you have? If the family has a pet, ask if it's friendly. Let the parent know if your child is nervous or scared around animals.