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Normalizing Tough Conversations with Fellow Parents: Firearms in the Home

Before your child goes to a friend’s home for a playdate or sleepover, parents often ask each other several questions. “Do you have any pets?” “Who will watch the kids?” “Is there a pool in your backyard?” “Does your child have any allergies?” These and many other questions are widely accepted – and even expected – between parents to keep the kids safe. However, one important question is often missing: do you have a firearm in the home?


In the U.S., children are at greater risk for unintentional gun deaths than other high-income countries. Research from 2015 estimated that each year from 2005 to 2012, there were around 110 unintentional gun deaths of children aged 0 to 14, and many were accidentally shot by a sibling or friend (1). In 2023 alone, there were at least 395 accidental shootings by children, resulting in 151 deaths and 260 injuries (2). Recently, firearms have also become the leading cause of death for American children. From 2018 to 2021, 26.9% of deaths for those aged 0 to 19 resulted from guns, exceeding motor vehicle deaths at 24.7% (3).


Despite this, conversations about gun safety are still too few and far between, especially in a country where there are more guns than people (4). However, parents aren’t the only ones hesitant to talk about this. In fact, some healthcare workers have also expressed concern about discussing this with their patients (5). Therefore, we must work to normalize these conversations in order to save lives. See the tips below to get started.

 

●       Ask other more comfortable questions first.

○       “Do you have any pets?” “Are they friendly?”

○       “Sam is allergic to peanuts. Have you used an EpiPen before?”

 

●       Try different tactics to work through the conversation, like using more common questions as a transition into gun safety or acknowledging how it can be uncomfortable.

○       “One last safety question: do you have any guns?” (6)

○       “I know this is a bit awkward, but I always ask this before playdates. Are there



guns in your home?” (7)

 

●       While you may worry if there are guns, ask follow-up questions to make decisions and take next steps instead.

○       “Thank you for telling me. Are they unloaded and safely stored?”

○       “Do you have any rules in place regarding firearm access?”

 

●       Try relating the topic to yourself, especially if you are a gun owner or know one.

○       “I’m a gun owner and supporter of safe storage. Do you have any yourselves?”

○       “My dad is a cop, but he makes sure his guns are unloaded and secured with the ammunition locked up separately before we visit. Do you own firearms too?”

 

●       Anxious about how this may go in-person? Ask over text instead (8).

 

●       Lastly, consider teaching your kid(s) about gun safety and what to do if they see a gun.

○       Start by helping them understand the difference between toy and real guns.

○       Teach them these four steps if they ever see a firearm (9).

1. Stop what you are doing.  2. Leave the area.  3. Don’t touch it.  4. Tell a trusted adult.

 

Safe storage and proactive conversations can save lives. For more information, please check out the additional resources below:

●       Lurie Children’s Resources on Safe Storage: https://research.luriechildrens.org/

●       Be SMART: https://besmartforkids.org/




References

1. Hemenway, D., & Solnick, S. J. (2015). Children and unintentional firearm death - injury epidemiology. BioMed Central. https://injepijournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s40621-015-0057-0

2. Everytown Research & Policy. (2023). #NotAnAccident Index. https://everytownresearch.org/maps/notanaccident/

3. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). WISQARS Explore Fatal and Nonfatal Data. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://wisqars.cdc.gov/explore/?o=MORT&y1=2018&y2=2021&g=00&t=0&i=0&m=20810&d=&s=0&r=0&me=0&ry=0&yp=65&e=0&a=5Yr&a1=0&a2=199&g1=0&g2=15

4. The Small Arms Survey. (2018). Global Firearms Holdings. Small Arms Survey. https://www.smallarmssurvey.org/database/global-firearms-holdings

5. Stipelman, C. H., Stoddard, G., Bata, K., Muniyappa, B., Trepman, E., & Smith, E. (2019). Home Gun Safety Queries in Well-Child Visits. National Library of Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6820029/#pld190037r5

6. Van Dusen, C. (2022). Addressing An Unsecured Gun In The House. The Well by Northwell. https://thewell.northwell.edu/culturally-relevant-stories/adressing-a-gun-in-the-house

8. Rosen, A. (2023). Yes, You Should Ask If Someone Has Guns in the Home. Here’s How. Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. https://publichealth.jhu.edu/2023/why-and-how-you-should-ask-other-parents-if-they-own-guns

9. Frey, L. (2022). Side with Safety: How to ask about guns in the home before play dates. Akron Children’s | Inside Children’s Blog. https://www.akronchildrens.org/inside/2022/06/02/side-with-safety-how-to-ask-about-guns-in-the-home-before-play-dates/

 

 

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