Do You Have a Gun?
The hardest question I have had to ask another parent is “do you have a gun?” And if the answer is yes, the requisite follow-up questions: how do you store the gun? How do you store the ammunition? Do your children know about your gun?
I don’t know why this is the hardest question for me; why I cringe as I ask it in a way that I don’t cringe when I ask if the parents have a car seat for my kids in their car, or could they serve only vegetarian food to the twins. I ask a lot of questions and give a lot of information before I allow my child to go over someone else’s house. I like to get to know the family. Gun ownership is just one more piece of information that I’m seeking.
Maybe the question of “do you have a gun?” is so difficult because in this culture, the question sounds like a judgment. And maybe it is because it often feels as if our country is broken down into two sides: gun owners and non-gun owners.
My discomfort with guns stems from my associations with guns, in the same way that someone else’s comfort with guns probably stems from their associations. If you grew up hunting or as part of a military family or having a parent in an armed service such as the police department, chances are that your associations may be very different from my associations. You may have warm feelings towards guns. You may see a gun as a tool bringing you food to eat or protection, or a tool that allows a family member the ability to do their job safely.
But I don’t have those associations, and therefore, my feelings about guns are negative. I’m always aware that those feelings could be otherwise, if I had grown up in a different family or in a different place, therefore, I do try to keep all judgment out of my question. Even if I equally know that we all enter into questions with biases and answers that we want to hear.
So it is an awkward question that I awkwardly ask over and over again. I hate myself when I feel intimidated and don’t ask. I wish it was socially acceptable to send out a questionnaire to all the kids in town rather than have to ask the question individually each time my kids are invited to a new house in the same way that we all know about each other’s food allergies. Without ever having to ask, I can tell you every child in their grade at school who has a food allergy, and I adjust my behaviour around those children accordingly. We are given that information by the school about food allergies to keep children safe. I wish we had the same information about gun ownership, which, in my mind, is another piece of information we could have that could keep our children safe.
Again, my association with guns is that they are unsafe. That they are used for death. Those are my only associations with weapons. Again, if I had different associations with guns, I may not see their presence as such a huge deal. I may even welcome sending my children to a house with guns, thinking that my children are safer in their presence. But I don’t believe that; and my belief comes from my associations with guns.
I think what has surprised me the most is that no one has ever asked if we have guns. Perhaps they already know the answer intuitively, in the same way that there are people I can guess own guns and people I can guess don’t own guns based on the way they speak about guns. And maybe that is why the question is also so awkward; because I feel as if I’m the only one who asks. It makes me wonder what goes through the other parent’s head when I ask the question.
Josh forwarded me a moving article yesterday on a mother who is telling people to ask about guns. Her son was killed during a sleepover at a friend’s house when the friend picked up one of four unsecured guns that the family owned and pulled the trigger. Josh’s statement preceding the link was “Did you see this? We’re not nuts…”
Are we not nuts?
Sometimes it feels like we’re nuts about this. And sometimes it feels like everyone else is nuts about this. And sometimes I don’t care what anyone thinks or feels about the question: I just want my kids safe.
We allow our kids to go over a house with a gun when we are assured by the parents that their guns are properly secured. That their child knows of the gun’s presence. That their child has been taught to respect guns and not see them as toys. I am still uncomfortable with guns, but I can step back and see them as objects that are neither good nor bad; there are just gun owners who are responsible or irresponsible. And while I may not agree with the responsible gun owner’s gun ownership, I can, at least, respect our differences and recognize that we both have the same goal in mind: to keep our kids safe. We just have different ways of going about it.
June 21st was National Ask Day. But really, every day should be a day that you ask.