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While I consider myself to be a pretty laid back mom, I have a visceral aversion to guns. My now-10-year old son has never played with so much as a water gun and, if he ever happened to receive a toy gun as a gift over the years, it was returned right back to the store where it was purchased.
But play guns felt like child’s play during my family’s one-year stint in Arizona a few years ago. There, the majority of moms I met not only owned several guns but either slept with them on their nightstands or carried them in their handbags.
Playdates got really awkward. Gone were the days when whether soda would be served or not was my main concern. Instead, whenever I dropped off my son, I immediately went into reporter mode, insisting on finding out where the family “arms” were stored.
That didn’t work out so well, though, with some moms telling me that the very fact that I asked where they stowed their guns felt judgmental, and revealed I just didn’t understand that “this is how we do things around here.” The reactions pretty much put the kibosh on playdates that year.
Turns out I’m not the only one who has faced playdate weapons standoffs. A New York City mom of a now 6-year-old daughter tells me she was shocked a couple of years ago when the mother of her daughter’s friend (who happened to be a police officer) removed a gun from her belt and placed it in her handbag while the two sat snacking on hummus and baby carrots. “My eyes kept darting over to that handbag,” the mom, who didn’t want her name used, tells Yahoo Parenting. “Every time the kids would run into the room to tell us something, my heart would start racing.”
To this day, she wishes she had told the mom that she wasn’t comfortable having a gun in the house. “I was trying to be cool, calm and collected,” she says. “It was very awkward.”
So is it ever possible for the child of a non-gun-toting mom to have a playdate with one whose mom is into firearms? It’s a thorny issue, especially since there are guns in almost 50 percent of homes in the U.S., according to the National Rifle Association. And nearly 1.7 million children under age 18 live in homes where guns are loaded or unsecured (meaning the gun could be stored in an easy-to-reach shelf or drawer), according to a study published in Pediatrics.
While I no longer live in a place where the moms routinely carry guns, the issue still troubles me, especially with nearly 1,500 deaths occurring annually due to accidental gun firings, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, with half of all unintentional shooting deaths among children occurring at home or at the home of a friend or relative. Whether you own a gun or not, gun safety is paramount.
For Rala Brubaker, a mom of three who lives in Thornton, Colorado, and owns three handguns, finding out every last detail of what guns are in the home and where they’re stored is a top priority for her. And asking for those answers is something she’s never apologized for.
“If the weapons are kept outside a gun safe or are loaded and unattended, I don’t allow my kids to go to that house,” she tells Yahoo Parenting. “This is a strict rule I always adhere to.”
Basically, as a parent, be prepared to ask about guns in the same way you should ask about other common but potentially dangerous situations, such as a pool that isn’t fenced in, suggests Sara Connolly, a pediatrician at Bundoo.com. “It’s your job to be direct,” she tells Yahoo Parenting. “Say, ‘Are the firearms in your home locked and secured?’ Ask if the ammunition is stored and locked in a separate location. You might also say, ‘My child is fascinated by guns and would not be safe if she found one.’ This isn’t something you can beat around the bush about.”
And rest assured: If you don’t feel satisfied with the other parent’s answers, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with limiting playdates to a couple of hours at a local park. Or just host the kids at your house — that made it way easier for me to sleep at night when I was living in the Wild West.