The night before Sunday’s devastating church massacre, I learned a parenting lesson that I never would have thought to seek out on my own.
I was sitting around a dinner table with parent friends whose kids are a few years older, chatting about the ins and outs of slumber parties, when the subject of weapons in the home came up. I’m so grateful the conversation landed on this topic because it never would have occurred to my oblivious California-bred self that one of the pre-screening questions for playdates or slumber parties, at least in my neck of the woods, needs to address whether there are weapons in the home.
And not just that question; it’s a good start, but it can’t stand alone. Instead, it’s a conversation that needs to be primed and carefully managed to make sure you feel comfortable sending your kids to another home, and to also make sure potential guests are comfortable in your home. Here’s what I learned:
“Do you have guns?” can be interpreted lots of ways
This sounds so crazy to me, but people will answer “No” to the question “Do you have guns” because they don’t have, for example, a gun case with 50 rifles, or they don’t consider themselves collectors or hobbyists. That doesn’t mean that they don’t have a handgun in their bedside table or another gun in their truck for hunting. Instead of saying, “Do you have guns?” ask “Do you have weapons in your home?” The question is (hopefully) broad enough to remind them of the various types of weapons that may be stored somewhere on their property.
Start the conversation yourself.
Asking about guns in someone’s home can be a potential landmine, especially in a region where people have strong opinions about their arms and their rights. The consensus around the table was to bring it up yourself, by offering something like:
“Would so and so like to come over for a playdate? So that you know, we do have guns in our home that are unloaded and locked in a safe in the garage.”
Of course that’s a simplified script, but by proactively offering the information yourself, it opens to door to ask in return without putting the other family on guard.
If you don’t have weapons in the home, my friends recommended not saying “we have no weapons,” but instead starting the conversation by saying, “How do you store your guns?” That way, you don’t risk making gun owners feel judged, or that you might not green light a playdate if their answer is different from yours. Of course, non-gun-owners can just say, “Oh, we don’t have any.”
Don’t ask “Are they stored safely?”
Instead, ask, “How are they stored?” The definition of safely stored varies, from “oh, we just keep the one in our bedside table, it’s loaded, but that drawer is so hard to open, no kid will succeed,” all the way to, “we keep guns unloaded and locked in a safe in the garage, and ammunition in a separate, locked safe with a different password.”
Terrifying set of questions to ask, isn’t it? I admit I was completely in the dark before this weekend about just how fraught and necessary this conversation is for potential playdates.
The next morning, it felt so timely, in the worst possible way. Sunday’s massacre was horrifying, with the chilling bonus of being just down the road from us. And most horrifying of all is just how routine this kind of news is beginning to feel, from the initial reports of a mass casualty event, to the predictability of how it will be interpreted and spun by our leaders and media. We can fill in the blanks of the narrative with just with a few variables: what color was the shooter’s skin? What color and religion were his victims?
From there, the story just falls into place, and we begin screaming at each other over semantics—what kind of gun was used, whether it was legally obtained, whether he’s a terrorist, whether it was mental health to blame, whether the good guys with guns stepped in fast enough, whether now is the right time to address policy changes. Those deeply felt arguments, shouted into the algorithmic void, are just as rote as the mass shootings that keep happening, again and again.
I find the conversations happening online mortifying. How easily our leaders regurgitate the same anodyne statements that do nothing to help and nothing to prevent. How adeptly the reactionary public contorts a tragedy to support its own world views. How quickly we spread memes and misinformation to blame, vilify, retrench.
What kind of sick culture uses a community losing nearly 10% of its population as a catalyst for more violence against our neighbors?
Why can’t we all concede that we have a problem with gun violence in America? That acknowledgment does not invalidate your strongly held beliefs on gun ownership or gun control or masculinity or mental health or immigration or hate crimes or politics or anything else, other than that we have a gun violence problem in America.
You can remain pro-2nd Amendment and still recognize that this epidemic of tragedies is surely not what our Founding Fathers intended.
You can be pro gun control and still engage in pragmatic and productive conversations about how to stem this tide of violence.
Let’s stop spewing bile from our firmly established trenches. Our lives depend on it.