Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Tips on how to talk to your friends and family about gun safety

A few weeks ago we were invited to a BBQ at a family members home. This couple does not have children and happen to own a few guns, one of which I know they keep in a pretty accessible place in their bedroom. The invite took place through a text and I replied that we would love come, but I asked if they could lock up the handgun while we were there. I was met with resistance and, long story short, I told them that we wouldn’t be coming if the handgun was not in the safe.

After looking back through the text messages, I realized that (a) my message probably seemed a little brazen- “Hey, we’ll be there, but only if you lock up the guns?” and (b) it was actually a group text message, so all of this family member’s friends had also been privy to the conversation. Knowing this person, I also realized that she probably thought I was attacking her or judging her for owning a handgun (which I wasn’t). So, rather than continuing the discussion over email, I called her. I apologized for sending the request through a text message and explained that I wasn’t trying to offend her and her husband, and that I realized what I had written probably sounded really rude, but I didn’t really mean it that way-- such is the nature of a text message. I explained that I believe in a person’s right to own a firearm, but I would appreciate it if that firearm was in a safe while we are there with our son. And if it wasn’t that we wouldn’t be attending the BBQ.

It turned out, I was right, she did feel like I was attacking her, or somehow implying that she was a hillbilly who kept guns all around the house. And she was also a little embarrassed that it went to all her friends on the text message. After my apology, I clearly laid out why we wouldn’t be able to attend the BBQ if the handgun was not properly locked in a safe. By age 1, a toddler can squeeze your finger with 7 pounds of pressure, approximately the same amount needed to pull a gun trigger. He’s curious. He’s smart. He wants to know what everything is. He wants to touch everything. I could think of at least ten ways my son could find his way into that room where the gun is stored and easily pull that trigger if he were to find it. It’s absolutely ignorant to think that it couldn’t happen to you or me. And I’m not just worried about him shooting himself- what if he finds it and shoots another person? If a person wants to own a gun- that is their choice and their right, but along with that right comes responsibility. I was still met with some resistance, but I continued to firmly, but politely press my point. By the end of the conversation, I had convinced her that the best place for the handgun to be while kids were over was in the safe.

It was an incredibly uncomfortable conversation to have, but it was necessary. I held my ground and I didn’t back down. It was one of the first times I felt like a threatened Mama Bear! Since then I’ve had conversations with other couples who have found themselves in the same sort of situation with their family and friends, and they too felt it an incredibly necessary conversation to have. I don’t expect our friends and family who don’t have children to run around and childproof their homes when we come over, but I do expect that if they invite us over, they take into consideration the potential dangers in their home...especially if one of those dangers is a deadly weapon. We move the knives away from the edge of the counter, we make sure access to pools is limited, we make sure dogs are friendly with kids, we remind parents of food allergies, we move harmful chemicals away from reach, and we should start making sure that guns are locked up.

If you are struggling with ways to talk to friends and family about gun safety this is one of those times where it’s best to just do it. Don’t over think it. Don’t worry about offending anyone. You’re not the bad guy for wanting to keep your kid safe. If you are still a little unsure about how to broach the topic- check out the Mom’s Demand Action For Gun Sense in America Be Smart Campaign. They offer a short video and downloadable PDFs with tips on how to talk to friends and family about gun safety.


The main thing I learned from this situation is that it’s not the question but how you ask the question. It’s probably not best to try to have the discussion over text message. There may be some information you are trying to clarify that is difficult to convey over text. Try to have the conversation in person or over-the-phone. Text messages can seem dry and rude, especially since the person cannot hear the inflection and/or concern in your voice. If you have a regular checklist you go over before play date- include the question “do you have any firearms and how do you store them?” as a checklist time. You may be nervous the first few times you ask, but it will get easier with time. If they indicate that they own a firearm and are not willing to store it safely, you may want to rethink your visit.


If you plan on having children over, offer the information before other parents have a chance to ask. This way you take the pressure off of them to ask what they may think are uncomfortable questions and they will realize things like safe gun storage are on your radar, so they may not be as surprised when you broach the topic before coming to their house.


Ask nicely and don’t judge. Some people hunt. Some people would like a firearm because it makes them feel safe. It doesn’t matter why they own one, it only matters that it is stored properly while your child is over.


The Be Smart campaign suggests using technology to your advantage and texting or sending email if you think it would make it less uncomfortable. I think that this would work in many cases- you just have to know your audience.


Don’t forget to talk to anyone for that matter. If you’re child will be in someone else’s home- make sure you know how they store their firearms.

Has anyone else encountered a similar situation when talking to friend or family about gun safety?  Do you have any tips to help navigate this subject?  Let us know in the comments below!

Additional Resources:

Be SMART Campaign
Every Town for Gun Safety
Mom's Demand Action for Gun Sense
Guns Within Reach- Parents Magazine
Before the Play Date, the Gun Talk - CNN

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