Gun Safety: The One Question You Must Ask

Before letting your kid go to a friend's house for a playdate, you might check with the child's parents about pets, TV, food allergies, and, of course, pickup time. But do you ever think to ask about whether they have guns in the house—and, if so, how they store them?

The thought probably never even crossed your mind. But it must. That's why the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence (in collaboration with the American Academy of Pediatrics) has established National ASK ("Asking Saves Kids") Day this Saturday to raise awareness about the need to inquire about the presence of unlocked or loaded guns wherever your kids play.

Ashlyn Melton, a mom in Louisiana, wishes she had asked the parents of her son Noah's friend that question. A gun owner herself, Melton took the safety precautions she expected all gun owners to do: She kept her firearms and ammunition separate and locked away, and she taught Noah, 13, about gun safety. Nonetheless, while on a playdate in December 2011, Noah was accidentally shot and killed by his friend, who playfully put a gun to Noah's head (not realizing it was loaded) and pulled the trigger. "I didn't ask how they kept their guns," says Melton, whose son would have turned 16 this week. "I assumed, and now Noah's not here."

Her story is tragic, but unfortunately, the circumstances are not uncommon: - One out of three homes with children in the U.S. has a gun. - Nearly 1.7 million children live in homes with loaded, unlocked guns. - Nine children and teens are shot every day in gun-related accidents.

In her interview with Parents, Melton says parents are often hesitant to bring up the subject of gun safety, especially if they live in an area where many neighbors own a firearm. "I want the stigma that, 'I can't ask them about guns—that's personal' to go away. It's not personal. If my child is going to your house, I have the right to know."

Jennie Lintz, director of public health and safety for the Brady Campaign, tells Parents there's no need for this conversation to be awkward. In fact, 93% of respondents in a national survey said they would not be offended if another parent asked them about firearms. The Brady campaign offers suggestions for bringing up the subject seamlessly, like mentioning a gun-related incident in the news or a recent conversation you've had with your child about gun safety. Possessing firearms shouldn't be a disqualifier for a playdate, provided the family keeps them locked, unloaded, and out of sight and reach of children, with ammunition kept separately in a safe.

Melton views her tragic personal loss as an opportunity to educate others about the importance of gun safety in the home. "Noah's life ended in 8th grade, and his memory is still there," she says. "I don't want Noah's memory. I want Noah. And I'm worried about the parents who don't think to ask about gun safety. I was one of those parents."

Image: Gun with chain and padlock (ShutterStock)

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