My dad and his wife are coming to visit this weekend. In addition to the various conversations we’ve had about his travel plans and restaurants preferences, there was one more logistical issue I had to address.
I had to tell them to leave their guns at home.
My father and step-mother both carry guns with them on a regular basis. They are fully licensed to do so, and they have both undergone extensive training and practice in the use and maintenance of firearms. Even so, I’m not comfortable with guns in my home.
I’ve been thinking about this issue for months, ever since we started making plans for their visit. But I didn’t say anything. Every time I thought about bringing it up–either over the phone or on email–my chest got a little tight and I just didn’t do it. It’s a simple request, but I was worried that my father and I might end up in a heated “discussion” about gun rights, or that he might feel annoyed or angry by my request. As neither option was particularly appealing, I kept my mouth shut.
But I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Regardless of how you might feel about current gun laws in our country, the reality is that children are injured and killed every year in firearm accidents. (These accidents are admittedly rare, but that’s little consolation to the families involved.) If we lived closer to my father and were seeing him on a more regular basis, I would make it a point to educate the girls about guns and how to stay safe around them. But we don’t live near him, and I’m not ready to have that conversation yet. (I know we will have to talk about it at some point.)
As much as I don’t want to deal with it, I feel even more strongly about keeping firearms out of my house. I was on the phone with my father recently, and before we hung up, I took a deep breath and told him–it wasn’t a request–that I don’t want guns in my house.
“No problem,” he said.
And that was the end of it.
I had blown the whole thing up in my mind, perhaps with good reason. The politics of gun ownership are complicated and the debate can get heated quickly. People on both sides of the conversation often feel deeply unsafe, which makes it hard to engage in respectful interactions. I don’t even want to talk about it with strangers online; having that conversation with my own father seemed even worse.
The truth is that it was good practice for me. Mothers on my local parenting list-servs have been debating the importance of asking about guns in the home when sending kids on playdates. It’s not an easy topic to bring up if you’re not used to asking. (CNN, the New York Times Motherlode blog, and many other media outlines have addressed this issue in the past several months). My girls aren’t old enough to head out on their own yet, but they will be soon. Most parents are fairly comfortable asking about other potential hazards in the home, such as dogs, allergens, or pools–why not add guns to the list? The presence of any of these things doesn’t mean the parents are negligent or the home is unsafe, it simply provides an opportunity for an open conversation about how to keep everyone safe. No parent wants to see any child hurt, whether or not they own a gun.
This is not a conversation about politics or gun rights. That’s an important discussion, but it’s a very different one. This is about educating ourselves so we can keep our children safe. It’s time we all started having it.