On the heels of the worst mass shooting in U.S. history (the 179th mass shooting in 2016), if it isn’t time to talk about guns now we might as well just hand everyone a gun and let them do what they will. Our society believes that a person’s right to purchase a gun should never, ever be trumped by someone else’s right to stay alive. Our country loves guns. It is so very hard to be proud to be an American when this is what we have become.
We can’t seem to grasp that when terrorist attacks happen, grabbing the pitchforks isn’t going to fix it. When we have an opportunity to take action, we don’t. When shootings happen, it is never the right time to talk about it. Too soon. Too painful. We’ll do it next week or at least before the next one happens. But it’s not about the guns anyway. Guns don’t kill people.
I’ve seen as many people defending the Second Amendment on social media than I’ve seen expressing empathy for the victims of gun violence. Explaining nuances about the make and model of the gun in question. Talking about how this tragedy could have been averted if only everyone else in the room had been able to arm themselves. Threatening a bloodbath if anyone tries to take their guns away. It’s not only tone deaf, it shows how little daylight there is between some gun owners and terrorists.
I don’t feel safe with an armed person beside me in line at the grocery store. I feel less safe. The Good Guy With a Gun is a myth.
Republicans blocked a bill that would have stopped suspected terrorists from buying guns, as well as a bill that would have expanded background checks. So because someone might be on a terrorist watch list in error, everyone else on the terrorist watch list gets to continue purchasing guns — including Omar Mateen.
In response to the tragedy in Orlando, Trump doubled down on hate. This was not a hate crime against the LGBTQ community (oh but wait, was it?) or a problem with guns in our society. Nope. It was because we are soft on radical Islamic terrorism and Obama should resign. (Trump told you, and you didn’t listen. He’ll wait patiently for your thank you note.) If this shooting had been carried out by someone who didn’t have ties to radical Islam, would it finally be about the failure of our government to protect us from assault weapons? Or would it have just been marginalized because hating the LGBTQ community is fashionable again? I’m sure there would have been an impotent conversation about mental health (again).
What is it going to take for this country to finally purge itself of the hate and anger that feeds the destructive path we’re on?
I’ll die waiting for change like this to happen, likely having been shot for doing something silly like going to the grocery store without first donning my bulletproof vest. There is literally NOTHING I can do about it. The NRA has a stranglehold on our politics and our politicians are whipping this country into a roiling cesspool of xenophobia. All I can do is sign petitions, vote for politicians who support common sense gun control laws, and donate money. For my efforts I am rewarded with 24 hour news coverage of yet another mass shooting or an article about a toddler who killed her brother after they found a gun in grandma’s nightstand.
The only thing I can do with any degree of effectiveness is to make sure my kids are safe when they are under my control. Out in the world, it’s a dice roll. They could get shot at school, or at a concert, or at a playground. But in my home, or in the home of one of their friends or family members – I can do something about those places.
Parents, this is where you can do something too, and it is not a small thing. Since we obviously aren’t going to change the big picture, let’s exercise some control where it will really count.
Two Million Children in America Live in Homes Where Guns Are Left Unlocked
Did you know this? Gun owners would have you think this is a statistically small number. If child happens to fall on the wrong side of that statistic, they must be expendable and a small price to pay for the right to bear arms, which shall never be abridged.
The NRA tells parents to strategically “stage” guns in their children’s bedrooms because that’s where the bad guys will go first. The NRA also endorses the idea that hiding guns, rather than locking them up, is an acceptable way to store them. Thanks to this lunacy, two million children in the U.S. are living in homes where guns are not stored safely (maybe even “hidden” in their own bedroom!). Is your home one of them?
I recently had a conversation with a mom who kept a loaded gun within easy reach so she could defend her home from intruders. The children knew where the gun was and what it was for. Mom felt this was fine, though, because they “knew better than to touch it.” I have since learned that a shocking number of people I know keep unsecured, loaded guns in their homes. They ascribe to the (mistaken) belief that their children would never disobey them and the kids know “guns are serious business.” (Hint: I have seen their children disobey them.) Many of these parents are people whom I believed to be smarter than this.
If you are a parent who has a gun in your house that is not locked up, either your children should be taken away or your guns should. You are not responsible enough to have both.
Before you get your knickers in a knot, let me be clear: I am comfortable with gun ownership. I don’t want to take your guns away (or take your children away, for that matter). I am not comfortable with people owning guns and leaving them where children can get to them. (And really I’d like it to be a lot more inconvenient for you to buy guns and nobody needs assault weapons or high capacity magazines, but that’s another conversation.)
I’m sure many of these children “knew better” than to touch guns, too:
- A nine-year-old boy found his father’s handgun while he was playing in his parents’ bedroom and shot himself in the hand.
- Isaiah, 4, found his father’s handgun and shot himself in the head. His father was a county police officer.
- Christopher, 14, shot himself in the head with his father’s handgun. His father had left the gun out for his wife to protect herself while he was not home.
- Kimberly, 9, died after she was shot by her three-year-old brother while they were visiting their great-grandfather. The loaded gun had been left on a nightstand.
- Tavaris, 14, was shot in the chest by one of his friends, who was showing off a handgun. Tavaris died while in transport to an area hospital.
- 4 year-old Bryson killed himself while sleeping over his grandparents’ house. He shot himself in the head after finding his grandfather’s handgun in a bedroom.
- A 2 year-old girl found a handgun while playing in a home she was visiting with her mother and shot herself in the head.
Every one of these children could have just as easily been yours.
Saying the child “knew better than to touch the gun” is placing the responsibility of an adult failure in judgment on the shoulders of a child. It’s something said after a heartbroken parent buries their child and tries to make themselves feel better. It is not a plan that will keep your child safe.
The adult who owns the gun knows better, or should, but leaves the gun unlocked anyway.
There Are No Accidental Gun Deaths or Injuries
109 children have been shot this year, and we are only halfway through 2016. (When I started writing this in early May, that statistic was 85. In a little over a month, the number climbed by almost a rate of one child shot per day.) Two million American children living in homes where guns are not stored safely is not an accident. It is irresponsibility. It is insanity.
Adding to this are the gun-slinging cop wannabes who hang out in the local “neighborhood watch” groups, threatening to shoot anyone who even thinks about crossing their threshold (complete with a photo of themselves pointing a gun at the camera). These are the people taking a bite out of crime, folks, and they’re raising children in your community who will follow in their gun ownership-disrespecting footsteps.
So, yes. I’m going to be that parent. And you should be that parent, too.
Parents: We Need To Ask Questions And Speak Up
I will ask you if you have guns before my son is allowed to hang out in your house. I will confirm, if you do own guns, that you have them securely locked away. If the answer is no when I ask, my kid will not be having playdates at your house. Ever. I will not trust your “they aren’t locked up now, but I will do it before he comes over.” You have already displayed a massive failure in judgment, and I will never feel safe with my son in your care.
And if I have seen you pointing a gun at a camera or threatening to shoot someone, I don’t care if your kid and mine are the very bestest friends in the universe at school, they are not going to be hanging out anywhere. Thanks for showing me your stupid before something tragic revealed it.
As mothers, we need to be having these conversations where it counts – with other parents — especially the parents in whose homes our children spend time. We need to be watching out for our friends’ children, too, by sharing information about irresponsible gun owners in the community. (Good way to get shot, right?) (I wish that were a joke.) We need to be talking to our children’s aunts, uncles, grandparents, and other caregivers, and letting them know that for our children’s safety, we require guns to be safely locked away.
It is not enough to donate to a cause like Everytown for Gun Safety, or Moms Demand Action, or to wring your hands over tragic tales on Facebook. We are charged with keeping our babies safe, and that includes keeping them safe from other people’s stupidity. We can’t protect them from the world, but in our homes and in our neighborhoods, we can and should at least make the effort.
Before playdates it’s pretty customary to talk about house rules, video game ratings, food allergies, and the like. Just add guns to the list. Keeping your children safe is paramount to asking questions that might make others (or even yourself) uncomfortable. By being proactive about gun safety, you become a part of keeping all of our kiddos safe.
And for crying out loud if you have an unsecured gun in your house go lock it up.
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Have you had a chat about gun safety with the other parent before a play date? If you own a gun, would you be offended if another parent confirmed with you that your guns are secured? Or do you think it is totally ok to expect kids to not touch guns when they’re told not to, so there is no reason to lock them up?