When I became a mom of two in Manhattan, I had already lived in New York City for ten years, in a city with notoriously strict gun laws. Residents with premise permits can only carry a gun outside of their home to a firing range and it must be unloaded and stored in a locked container during travel. Otherwise, guns can’t be taken anywhere, including outside city limits. We lived in a two-bedroom apartment only a few avenues away from Central Park and the only guns I ever saw were in the holsters of officers of the New York Police Department or members of the counterterrorism division who guard high-traffic areas of the busy city. My husband and I definitely did not keep a gun in our home and I never worried whether there were guns in the homes that my children, then ages 3 and 1, visited for playdates. Guns were just not a part of our community’s lifestyle. Even as a kid growing up in Syracuse, New York, my family did not own a gun. No one in my family hunted and I didn’t even own a toy pistol growing up. I never had a reason to learn how to properly hold or shoot a gun. But everything changed in 2016 when my family moved to Texas.
My husband, kids, and I moved into a home in the suburbs outside of Houston with plenty of open yard space, where the kids play with water balloons and make play forts out of our patio chairs. Our neighbors sit outside and chit-chat while kids scoot around or ride bikes together. Of course, I knew before we moved that Texas has very different views on guns than New York City, but I was still surprised to see the huge billboards on the highway for buying guns and ammo. I was shocked to realize you can buy a pair of soccer cleats and a gun in the same store.
Texas Gun Culture
More than 1.3 million Texans have licenses to carry a handgun, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety. You must be 21 years old to buy a handgun and 18 years old to purchase a rifle. Although licensed gun dealers are required by federal law to do background checks, Texas regulations don’t require background checks for private sales of guns, such as buying from an individual or from some gun shows. Texas handgun licenses require classroom training, a written exam, and a shooting test.
While unpacking, my husband asked if I wanted to get my gun license and buy my own gun to keep in a safe in our home. I quietly shook my head, but my gut reaction was more like "hell no." A license for a gun? Not me! I believed the last thing this world needed was more guns. In the U.S., 44 percent of Americans living with a child under age 18 report having a gun in the house, according to a 2019 Gallup poll. Wasn’t that number high enough? I wasn’t going to be the next Annie Oakley; I didn’t want to have a gun at my hip. I didn’t believe I personally needed one. I wasn’t about to surrender my own beliefs that I was fine without it because I moved to a new state with looser gun laws. Research suggests states with more guns have more unintentional firearm deaths. And according to the most recently available CDC data, 833 children under the age of 15 were shot and killed in 2017. At least 70 of those deaths were accidental, often occurring inside a child’s own home or the home of a friend.
I rolled my eyes at the gush of hot air that had meant we were in gun country and we better get used to it. “Guns are not going to be all over our life,” I declared.
I used to ask Manhattan parents about their favorite snack to give their kids, now I ask Texas parents if they have guns in their homes or in their cars. Hunting often comes up in conversation on the soccer field before a game, or talk turns to guns used at the gun range on outings with friends. At first, it was shocking how open and conversational others were about firearms—and I couldn’t join in the conversation, as I didn’t have memories of shooting my first deer or celebrating a family member’s successful duck hunting trip. The longer I lived in Texas, I’ve become more comfortable asking other parents or friends, “Do you have any guns in your home?” However, I know I’m not yet settled into the culture of my new home when I want to cover my kid’s eyes when I see someone carrying a gun in a holster.
- RELATED: Guns Within Reach
Safety in Our New Home
Three years after moving to Texas, my husband and daughter were late to a special lunch they had been planning at the mall near our home. Traffic was backed up, and we were all frustrated waiting in the car. At one point my husband suggested walking the remaining distance with our daughter, but thankfully they didn’t: The traffic jam was caused by a shooting scare at the mall. A person in a mask, rumored to have a gun, was threatening to harm himself in the food court, sending hundreds of shoppers fleeing into the parking lot. It turns out there was no firearm involved, but I will never forget the panicked faces on parents and nannies running with their kids and pushing strollers as fast as they could.
Of course, I had my eyes peeled in Manhattan for any concerns of violence while pushing the double stroller to and from an outing, but while riding the subway or taking my kids to a street festival there was a sense of relief in knowing it was unlikely that an individual was carrying a gun. In Texas, the odds are a lot higher that someone in a crowded setting could be carrying a gun, and that one disgruntled shopper could cause hysteria. Considering that risk, I was starting to wonder for the first time if I should be one of them.
When it comes to the prevalence of guns and the potential for gun violence, I question if where I live even matters. When my husband travels for work and I’m alone with the kids, would I be calmer with a firearm stored in a biometric fingerprint safe? In a concealed-carry state, would I feel safer having a gun while walking at dusk with my kids after we go to the park? Would having a gun ease my mind at a crowded movie theater, a busy crawfish festival or at a shopping center?
I glance around restaurants more carefully than I did in New York; I take in who’s shopping in the aisle with me at the grocery store. I always consider who might be carrying a gun wherever we go—the thought is always there while we order our dinner or go to the movie theater. I look for the exits and I’ve become a lot more alert to my surroundings, especially when I’m with my kids.
These conflicting thoughts swarm my heart, as does the unsettled feeling inside my chest that comes from knowing an outing with my family could turn unpredictable at the most mundane moment. But no matter what we decide as our Texas lives continue, our children understanding the safety precautions that need to be taken around guns will always be our top priority.
My daughter now notices the symbol for firearms in restaurants and retail stores, something she never would have seen in New York City. She will often comment on the line across a gun graphic on signage and say, “Look, Mommy, no guns.” I know we can’t control everything our kids see, and silence can often create the worst kind of curiosity. So we talk about guns. We talk about how guns hurt and can kill people; it's blunt language but having a serious tone around this topic is important. And we talk about what to do if they are visiting a friend's house and they see a gun: don't touch it, walk away, get a grown-up, and call me immediately.
Editor's Note: The American Academy of Pediatrics states that the safest home for a child is one without guns. However, if parents choose to have guns in the house, they should be unloaded and locked inside lock boxes or gun safes, with ammunition stored and locked separately. Children and teenagers should not have access to keys or code combinations to the gun containers. Firearms should also be removed from cars or other vehicles. AAP also advises that parents always unload a gun before setting it down, even while using it for target practice.