I had a talk about guns with another parent. It was awkward to initiate but in the end I was so glad I did it. A few months ago my four-year-old was invited to a drop-off birthday party, his first party at someone’s home without me. The party hosts were a family I have known for a few years, but not well enough to know their stance on gun ownership. I have also met enough gun owners to know that I can’t presume who may own a gun based on appearance, religion, or any other demographic. Therefore, I knew I would have to ask them, but I dreaded doing so for fear of offending.
About six months ago we were at another party and as my son and a boy played upstairs out of my sight, I heard them talking about holding a gun. My heart nearly stopped and I sprinted upstairs to find them pointing a small, plastic water gun. It was then that I realized that I must ask playmates about guns in their home, possibly even when I am with him. I ask about guns at every new patient well visit, so why wouldn’t I ask it of my children’s friends? The importance of gun safety has been reinforced over and over as preventable gun injuries and deaths flood the media headlines.
So in contemplating dropping my preschooler off at a birthday party without my close parental supervision, I knew I had to think about what potential risks may be there and face him. The following is an excerpt from my email to the host parent:
“As a pediatrician mom, I have to ask two questions though: does anyone smoke in your home? and do you have any guns? I hope you don’t take offense to these questions, but in my line of work I have decided that these are two issues that I need to screen for when my children are out of my care.”
I was so relieved that the answers to these questions were no and that the mother applauded my asking and decided that she would also start asking others the same questions when her children were out of her care. Some have asked me though what I would have done had the answers been yes. This is a trickier situation and I think the decision about how to handle this is personal for each family. For me, gun ownership itself is not immediate criteria for defriending, however, I would want to know that they responsibly kept the gun and ammunition separated and locked up out of reach of children. If these criteria could not be met, I would definitely not let my children play in this household. As for smoking, I would not allow my children to sleep over a household where there were smokers. For a limited time period like a birthday party, I would ask that no one smoke during the party or near the children. If these accommodations could not be met, I would have to decline the party invite.
Fortunately, my son was able to attend this party without any friendship lost and no risks to his health or safety. I am also glad I was not afraid to ask these important questions. I know that as I continue asking in the years to come, the answers I receive will not all be so easy and I am ready to handle those challenges. If only I could offer him a similar level of protection as he goes off into the world without me.
Gun Violence Facts and Statistics, from CHOP
Gun Violence Prevention by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)
Firearm-Related Injuries Affecting the Pediatric Population, AAP Policy Statement
Gun Safety, from CHOP
[The above opinions are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer, The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.]