I was 16 or 17 when I pulled into the mall’s parking ramp one day for my work shift. I was fiddling around in the car and getting my things together when I noticed something really strange. Another car, driven erratically, was jerking into the spot next to me and parking. As I watched, all of the doors opened and a bunch of kids that looked to be around 11-13 years old piled out… including one out of the driver’s side door. I saw no sign of any adults, whatsoever, and everything indicated that the kids had driven there themselves. On some of the busiest, most dangerous roads in my area.
I didn’t investigate, and I didn’t say anything (I wish I had) but I think that was the first time I thought about kid safety in the context of myself having kids some day. I thought about it a lot that day and many times since then. How could that have been prevented? Were there any warning signs? Can you trust your kid again after something like that?
Fast forward about 8-10 years or so…
…after a long, halfhearted lifelong fight against my grandfather who refused to teach me anything about hunting (because I was a girl and he didn’t like kids), against my mother who insisted I would cry the first time I shot a rabbit (mouse-trapping evidence to the contrary)…
…after making slight inroads on being educated in the safe use of guns from others, including some rather sketchy characters who weren’t concerned about safety or law…
…and after I finally had purchased my first gun, a 20-gauge Remington 870 Express…
…I inherited one of my grandfather’s rifles and several handguns. Slowly, but surely, I became more confident and educated in their use. I started going out hunting, take my friends out target shooting, and even helped a friend buy her first gun.
Dealing with my family resistance to learning to use these guns and to hunt was a long hard journey and the first set of actions I took in my life that made me realize I might actually be a feminist. (Instead of my earlier stance dismissing feminism as an over-reactive fringe movement.)
Fast forward another couple years and I was pregnant. So, of course, up comes the gun safety issue. At first, it started innocently enough… I browsed the options for cabinets and locks and whatnot. I was (still am) disappointed that my guns can no longer be attractively displayed on an open rack. But it was much like the other items I put away or raise up, hide, give or throw away. Like other parents and other issues, I have a plan. A vision in my head… the crib goes here, the diaper changes will work like this, the bassinet will go here, the guns will get locked away…
And like everything else, everything went to shit practically the moment the baby came home. First off, I had to make sure people around me with guns understand what I need them to do if they ever expect my kid to be over at their house. This results in many disagreements and a lot of suspicion and hurt feelings and conversations like this:
Them: “Sure, the guns are hanging there but the ammo is locked up!”
Me: “What about the ammo that he forgot in his coat pocket then?”
Me: “Wow, your kid imitates the characters in Call of Duty really well. But you know, I don’t think you should bring over that extremely realistic toy gun over to my house when you bring him here since I do have real guns.”
Them: “You have a point.” (proceeds to completely forget/ignore the conversation next time I see them)
The second, is when I realized that that beautiful locking gun cabinet that I thought was such a great deal on Craigslist that I got to replace the rack, is just glass. Which when my son learned to stand, he also learned he loved to bang on.
In the wake of the school shootings, I think about those kids at the mall again. Where do I draw the line on trust? Can I trust my own child when he is a teenager with guns behind a glass cabinet? Can I trust his friends and their parents’ gun safety? In the example above, with the realistic toy gun I am told keeps guns of some kind in his own home. When I mentioned this to another acquaintance of mine, he insisted that I simply shouldn’t let my son play with that kid. He had no suggestions when I pointed out that that kid lives down the street from us, and it did not seem terribly realistic that I would be able to police my child or that other kid to that kind of degree.
I’ve rearranged and thought a lot about where to hide the keys for the trigger locks and cabinet. I’ve put them in a safe with the handguns but I almost never go in there so I’m always forgetting the combination. Where do I hide the combination? I put a copy in the cloud for easy access and I never let my kid use my phone now… but in the future…? Where do I put the paper? I think about all my escapades as a kid going through my mom’s closet (Hell, I remember going through my friends’ parents’ closest with my friends… we found lotsa lotsa porn I’ll tell you…and Christmas presents). And kids aren’t stupid. If they see you’re always heading down to the basement, or the filing cabinet or wherever all the time before a hunting trip they know where to look. You live with them for crying out loud!
And of course, as my son gets older I’ll have to think about other issues, too. Like education about guns. Under what circumstances may he touch them? When and will I take him hunting and target shooting with me? And until it happens I will have no idea what the best parenting style is. I believe in being open, and showing my child trust but I am afraid of missing some sign, some depression in his life in his teens. On one hand, I know there is some expression of over-reacting here. To take a page from Dan Carlin (with correction… though I’ll admit I’m probably screwing up my math here), only 0.00003% of the United States population is involved in mass shootings (not counting since 2012). Simple suicide or accident is a much greater concern, but I’m less concerned in an accident in the sense that it is on the same level to me as a car accident or an accident with my table saw.
And I think, am I being too paranoid? Not to put too much of a cap on caution and respect for the firearms, but my son isn’t even 5 years old and I’m already thinking that in some way I don’t trust him with this in a way I don’t think about other things, even learning to drive. Even my car keys, even having seen those kids all those years ago, don’t give me that sense of dread of the possibility of my son stealing them and getting himself or others killed in a car accident. Is this really about trust, or am I more afraid of being the parent of “that” kid? Am I afraid I won’t be a good parent and will miss signs of bullying and depression? I was bullied quite heavily as a child and I’m very determined to not let my son share my fate. Both?
I already have a problem with one parent on my street, mentioned above, who I have told twice that I didn’t think giving his kid an extremely realistic gun when he comes to my house was a good idea. His child is extremely adept at imitating first-person shooter games, and did it constantly the last time I saw him. The father was joking with me not too long ago when he got to the neighborhood park because some of the people on the street didn’t appreciate the fact that his preschool son was pointing an extremely realistic toy gun at them. And I made him understand in no uncertain terms that I wasn’t his chucklebuddy for his irresponsible behavior. Which brings me to what I will call the “American Monster” problem:
I want to make something clear here. There are liberals who like guns. There are Democrats who like guns. There are people who use and even like guns across the entire political, racial, sex, class, and gender spectrum. This is an American cultural artifact, for good or for ill and conversation is difficult to progress when people divide the gun issue and fold it into the established socio-political divisions. When that happens, people begin to view the issue and frame their arguments from ideology instead of reason. I have also noticed that people who are liberals and Democrats and like guns, tend to be relatively silent in gun communities and in gun control discussions… I suspect this is due to not wanting to be associated with the negative stereotypes of gun owners (or worse, gun lovers!) and not wanting to be the black sheep in a crowd. But this can make it difficult for people who enjoy guns to be constructive in helping each other be safe with guns.
In order to look into gun safety issues with children, not only do I have to wade through the usual parenting nonsense (unhelpful non-advice, suggestions that if your kid was raised right they simply would never do bad things, horrible memes, etc) but also an unsavory political climate. In other words, it can be tricky to find another parent you can just sit down with an have a good conversation with about these issues. My advice: separate guns from politics. And stop living in denial about the risks of guns, that is a big one. Kids accidentally killing themselves or others with guns is a thing that happens, even to good kids and good parents. Abusive spouses kill with guns. Parents accidentally kill their own children with their guns.
Your kids and their friends don’t always behave the way they “should”.. it doesn’t necessarily matter how you raise them. Use common sense. Don’t keep unloaded guns around the house, don’t think hiding them under your couch cushions, in your purse, in a drawer, or in your closet is safe. Keep any guns not locked up on your immediate person.
Accept it and address these issues as real. I firmly believe in guns rights but I also believe in promoting responsible use and keeping of guns and not living in denial about the facts. Sometimes these memes and the denial comes, I think, from the idea if any inch is given to acknowledging these realities then the only logical conclusion is the removal of guns.
When considering how to secure your guns, consider what you are securing them from. Just casual access from guests? Kids? Burglars? Use that to help guide your purchases based on budget. Right now I’ve settled on using a dual lock jobox which I will be creating a custom rack for instead of an overpriced-yet-not-necessarily secure mid-level safe.
And last, don’t just rely on educating your child or securing the guns. Go for both.
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