One of the most difficult things about being a parent is having to confront real issues and make tough decisions regarding our children’s safety especially when the topic is a highly contested political debate. Let it be known, this is not a political article and does not hold an opinion about gun rights. The intent is to provide a resource to be able to have difficult conversations to help keep your child safe.
I recently contacted Mary Grove, Group Be SMART lead of Flagstaff Volunteers of AZ Chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and asked if she would be able to help answer some common guns safety questions as well as give some advice on how to approach the topic with other families. Ms. Grove graciously offered logical solutions to real life examples and put forth applicable tools that can help us all have these conversations with confidence. I believe these questions and answers can be applied to any topic of safety concern when warranted, whether it be the concern of possible drug use and/or paraphernalia, guns, storing of household cleaning supplies and other topics.
Question: “How do parents approach the topic of guns with other parents without assuming or offending?”
Answer:“I think the key here is to make it part of a general safety conversation. If a child is going to spend time at another person’s home, their parents would certainly let the other person know if their child has allergies or is afraid of animals. They might also ask if the person has a fence around a pool or similar concerns, and then as a natural part of the conversation bring up the question about firearms in the home and how they are stored.”
Question: “How do parents respectfully ask gun owner parents how they store their guns and how do parents know when the storage is safe and responsible?”
Answer: “Parents can ask more questions to confirm safe storage practices. Safe storage includes three methods: unloading the ammunition, locking the firearm, and storing each in separate secure locations.”
Question: “How do parents approach a situation with a gun owner parent that we are uncomfortable with?”
Answer: “This depends on why the parent is uncomfortable with the gun owner parents. If it is just because they are gun owners, the conversation might be easier to begin with in a text or email. It could be sandwiched in among other questions and information, again as part of a general safety conversation.”
Questions: “How do we talk to our young children about gun safety or even broach the topic of guns at all? What is age appropriate?”
Answer: “It’s important to remember that keeping children safe from unauthorized and unsupervised access to firearms is always the adult’s responsibility. However, since we don’t live in a perfect world (research shows that 4.6 million children live in homes with guns that are not responsibly stored), parents may need guidance on how to talk to children about what to do if they find an unsecured gun. The resource Talking to Your Children about Guns has separate tips for talking to young children and talking to teens. For all ages, it suggests talking to your children frequently as you would about other critical safety concerns. An important point made on the factsheet is that talking to children about guns is only a precaution. It doesn’t guarantee safety.”
Question: “How do we talk to our young children if we are uncomfortable with our child being at a special friend’s house due to gun safety concerns?”
Answer: “When it comes to keeping children from access to firearms, this one is always on parents and adult caregivers. If you’ve had the conversation about safe storage with your child’s special friend’s parent and are not convinced that guns in their home are secured, be honest about this with the other parent and make sure they understand the reason you won’t allow your child in their home. You can suggest that your child’s friend come to your house instead or that you all meet somewhere else. When a child’s safety is at stake, this is the only answer. A helpful example of this is scripted in the Asking About Secure Gun Storage handout. Bottom line–it’s the parent’s responsibility to have a conversation with the adults in the home. If the parent isn’t comfortable with the answers they get from the adult, the child shouldn’t play there.”
Question: “Is there anything else you think parents should know or other Questions we should be asking?”
Answer: “Just remember the conversation is about guns, safety and kids. Everyone is concerned about the safety of children. The following experience proves the point. I was tabling at event, and a father who was a gun owner came by with his two young daughters. He was particularly struck by one of the statistics I had posted on my Be SMART trifold display– 4.6 million children live in a household with at least one loaded, unlocked gun. He said his guns were secured, but he never thought to question his friends, also gun owners, about how they stored their firearms. Since the families in his group frequently got together in each other’s homes, he decided on the spot that it was an important topic to bring up the next time they all got together, especially since they all were parents of young children. For him, protecting his daughters was more important than anything else in his life. He took some of the Be SMART cards for his friends.”
I’ve learned from my conversations with Mary Grove that it is our responsibility as parents to have these tough conversations which may be uncomfortable in our effort to ensure the safety of our children. These are not unreasonable questions to have answers to and the more of us who ask them, the more commonplace they become. This will only provide more confidence and safety for all of us.
Be SMART for Kids webpage. This campaign of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America makes use of the SMART framework to educate adults about the life and death need for responsible gun storage. The Be SMART program is for gun owners and non-gun owners alike. Its purpose is to normalize the conversations about gun safety and get adults to take actions that could save lives. The acronym SMART reminds people of the steps needed to prevent unintentional child gun deaths.
Secure all guns in your homes and vehicles
Model responsible behavior around guns
Ask about the presence of unsecured guns in other homes
Recognize the role of guns in suicide
Tell your peers to be SMART
Another source of information for my answers were other members of our local Flagstaff Be SMART team and our AZ Be SMART Lead. Team members table at local events. We can also give a 20-minute presentation entitled “Be SMART: A conversation about kids, guns, and safety.” The Be SMART for Kids Facebook page is also a good source of information about the whys and how of this public education campaign.