Parenting StylesPolitics

Kids + Guns

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. She opted to by one of the PA-10 rifles from the online Palmetto State Armory store. It was indeed a good choice seeing that the store has numerous good reviews.

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.

Articles of note for parents:

Unsafe Gun Safes Can Be Opened By A Three-Year Old

Trigger Locks, the Dubiously Effective Safety Measure That Gun Control Advocates Love

A video showing how to open a trigger lock with a screwdriver

G&A Basics: How to Store Your Gun

J.G. Hovey

Just another person out there in the world. Follow the author's other endeavors at: A Parent With Glass, and ALTsapiens, and G+.

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  1. I was six, I think, or maybe seven, when the kid next door took me into his kitchen, climbed up onto the counter, and got into the cabinet over the sink to take out his father’s pistol. “Look he said, pointing it like a gunslinger. “We can play with it. My dad’s not home.”

    His mother was over at my house, talking to my mother. I have no idea if this gun was loaded. I’m pretty sure I left right then — this was around the time that RFK got shot and my mother had become fiercely anti-gun, enough that I was made uneasy by the sight of the weapon.

    But my point — and I do have one — is the same as yours. You think your kids won’t find your guns, your ammo, or that they won’t play with them when they do. Every kid who has ever shot himself, or his little brother or sister, or one of his parents, they thought that too.

    That kid next door was five at the time, by the way. Last I heard, he’s a police officer in Florida now.

    1. There seem to be a lot of people who either think kids literally never can be trusted to listen, and those who think “good” kids (aka, kids raised “properly”, whatever that means right?) always listen and obey. And of course few who consider about the friends of kids. I think, it is best to show your kids you trust them, and talk with them about safety, but you also have to secure the guns.

      I mean, no one would just tell a young kid not to touch a running table saw and then walk out of the room right?

  2. I struggle enough with my 20 year old sister in law and power tools, the kinds’n’guns question scares me. Specifically, SiL has the unfortunate tendency to go “eek” and drop whatever she’s holding, be it a dead mouse or a running power tool. We are working on that, but for now she’s not allowed to use rotating machinery other than the battery drill.

    With kids I’m scared less by the specific kids I know about, and more by the combination of kids in my house and the kids they associate with. Sure, teach kids gun safety… but kid #1 says “I know how to assemble and load a pistol”. Combine that with kid #2 “yeah, show me, I know the combination to mom’s gun safe” and kid #3 “hey, gimme that”. The nightmare scenario for me is bullying “you get me that pistol or I …”. There’s always the chance that the bully will find some lever that works, one way or the other (“now I have a loaded pistol and that bully…” is not better).

    One thing that always bothers me is the gun safety “never point a gun at someone you’re not going to shoot” meme being used by police officers. You’re teaching people that when a cop pulls their gun they’re going to die. If I’m about to be shot I have no ethical problem with trying to kill whoever’s about to do the shooting. So the “rule” is actually more subtle and a lot more complicated than the simple version above, especially from the dead end of the gun, “unless you think the person with the gun might be someone authorised by a state to use their gun as a threat, bearing in mind that many of those people don’t have to identify themselves and will try to look like civilians”.

    The advantage I have is not living in the USA, so the question of “how do I safely carry a loaded pistol every day” doesn’t occur. It’s more “how do I secure hunting rifles” and that is very simple by comparison (one arrangement I have used in the past is renting space at the cop shop. I wish more police forces did that, because it makes everything much simpler). Plus I’m enough of a geek that I don’t have a problem memorising the combinations.

    1. Collusion between kids with guns is one of my concerns which is why I think it is important to secure guns even if you trust your own kid. None of them should have he combination to the safe surely until adulthood.

      As for police with guns, yes, if a police officer points a gun at you it should only be because he or she is willing to shoot you and possibly kill you. Because even if he doesn’t mean to it can go off by accident. This is something that cannot be overstressed in my opinion.

  3. I really appreciate this posting. I was raised in the mid-Atlantic by “guns are evil” parents, who were disturbed when I got involved with a gun owner (who I’ve now been with for 16 years, married for 8). We live on a farm in a rural area, and firearms are basically necessary around here (predators and rare-breed livestock are not a good combination). And I’m pregnant with our first kid. Which means that this topic is definitely one on my mind, and is one that doesn’t get discussed much in the online circles I frequent (read: mostly “liberal,” feminist, social justice, geek). I’m glad to see this posting and hope it opens up the chance for some dialogue on the subject by people who, as you say, address this as a parenting/safety issue, rather than a political one.

  4. This is such a perversely stereotypical American post: Absolutely zero consideration of the notion that actually maybe widespread gun ownership isn’t a good idea in the first place. The AAP’s advice is excellent. By all means, educate your kids on good gun safety protocols in case they ever do come across one, but why then also fill their world with guns so that it becomes not just an unpleasant possibility that they’ll come across one, but an inevitability that they’ll think is normal and teach their own kids is normal, etc.?

    It makes as much sense as teaching your kids about germ theory and good personal hygiene, and then living in a cesspit. (Except, you might even argue, that a cesspit at least serves a good, helpful purpose in a civilised home, however unpleasant it might be up close.)

    1. I have considered no gun ownership but I did not discuss it in this article because that viewpoint is expressed elsewhere, and is held by other authors on this site and not by me. The purpose of the article is to open some conversation about safety for those who choose to keep guns. The AAP advice is about as helpful to gun owners as suggesting abstinence to avoid STDs.

      Edit to add: also, for me it was actually my “in” into feminism.

      1. I don’t like the analogy. Sex, like the properly functioning sewerage system that the cesspit forms part of in the other analogy, is (or should be) a good, positive thing that can make society better. It just needs to be used responsibly. Guns, on the other hand, serve only to harm and destroy, they have no positive use (except, perhaps, the decorative purpose you mention). I’ve had several relatives killed or injured by guns, several friends threatened by them, and not one (gun-owner or not) who’s got a story of a gun saving them from anything. Anecdotal, I know, but it all leans so clearly in one direction, and fits most of the wider evidence too.

        You’re right that the anti-gun debate has been thoroughly had elsewhere already, so we needn’t do the whole thing again here. My sole point is simply that the sexual abstinence analogy is not appropriate here.

        A separate point: It’s nice that this gave you an in to feminism, but surely that doesn’t actually count for anything towards keeping guns in future. Will you stop being a feminist without guns? Would it be impossible to raise feminist kids without them?

        1. My comment about abstinence wasn’t about sex but about advice being useful or not.

          I have no interest in removing guns from my life or society. I simply come from a different background with a more positive experience with guns than yours. Of course I could be a feminist without owning guns, but I have no desire to stop owning guns, and although it may be something inconsequential to your reckoning, my way to feminism is an important part of who I am and how I got to where I am today. As I have said, I have considered not owning guns but came to my own reasons why decided against that.

  5. This still seems like a silly tradeoff to me and the comparisons don’t really seem to hold up. It’s obviously not feasible for people to not own cars (in most situations) in the same way it is 100% easily feasible to not own a gun. And I don’t really see (from the comments) how sex is comparable in any way either apart from the broad “sometimes we take risks to do things we love.” But I wouldn’t strap my kid to me while base jumping or expose them to STDs just to have sex (in whatever way round that would work as an analogy). And there have been plenty of cases where I didn’t do something I love or in the way I’d like to because of my kid.

    Finally, If the safety is so fragile it requires all the non-gun owners in the community to participate and causes heartache when they don’t … maybe it isn’t safe.
    And why would we participate? I already have to remember all the rules around safety for things people actually need. Like cars. And food allergies. And now I have to not play the wrong video games with my son because you are afraid of what… or actually I’m not actually even sure where that line of thinking goes and I’m not really interested in following it.

    And that doesn’t even cover the question of how I’m supposed to know that you actually do all the things you are supposed to with your guns as someone I casually know well enough to have my kid visit.

    If it’s easier, safer, and more fun for my kid to not visit your house, then I think it’s probably easier if we take the excellent advice at the top of the article and just don’t visit

    1. I am sorry for the misunderstanding. I was not meaning to compare guns with cars or with sex. The first is about trust, the second is meant to highlight what constitutes useful advice.

      However, in regards to not visiting, you may not even realize you or your child is visiting the house of a gun owner. Like many other things (as those you mentioned and others), you and your child have to be aware of safe practices and be able to trust them and the other people they spend their time with.

      I’m not sure about the video game comment? In my example, the father encouraged his child to imitate video game characters using guns and was obnoxiously insistent that his child MUST play with realistic toy guns, and ignored my request to not bring those particular toy guns to my house. Additionally I believe he has at least one real handgun in the house, but I do not know how it is stored or how he teaches his child to distinguish between the real and the fake guns. However at some point, if my child and his child become friends they will reach an age when they will come and go between our houses and I may not be able to control that.

  6. I’m facing a similar situation myself. I’m in the family house, with my father, sister, brother-in-law, and 9 year old nephew. My nephew has never showed any interest in my firearms, but they stayed locked in my room, anyway. (I don’t have a safe, so I have a secure lock on the room). Honestly I trust my nephew more than my father with them.

    But my brother is now moving into the house with his wife and 2 boys. They’re a lot more high energy and into everything, and they’ve been living in Japan where weapons are not allowed. Forbidden fruit. So I’m going to have to be a lot more vigilant until I can afford a place of my own.

    1. That is definitely a tough one.. Biggest problem with a lock on the door of course is since it is opened frequently it makes it all the more likely the day could come when you forget to lock the door. And of course, more of my illicit childhood adventures, certain locks are better or worse for being tampered with. Those locks that run through the action or an omnilock might be a good backup if you can’t fit something more secure in there for storage. I just hate things that require a key, though… Just one more thing I have to hide that will probably get discovered anyway, I feel like.

  7. I keep the room key on my keychains, but I have to have a hidden backup in case I accidentally lock my keys up, and I’m going to have to move that to a more secure location.

    Most of my weapons are antiques or modern replicas, so I’m not really worried they’ll figure out how to load the muzzle loaders. All the handguns are already in a safe, so maybe I can get a small safe for the few modern rifles I have. I just don’t know where I’ll put it, I’m packed in here already.

    1. Guess it just depends on how secure it needs to be. Even those hard plastic gun cases can be locked and slide under a bed or propped up in the closet. There are metal gun cabinet/safes that slide under the bed as well. People have used trunks, job boxes, wooden cabinets that sort of thing. Just depends on what lengths the kids might go through. And of course could always be backed up with the action lock of some kind. Good luck. Totally jealous of the muzzle loaders… 🙂

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