Can you ask the guns question? Perhaps Uncomfortable–but Always Appropriate
In the U.S., an estimated 4.6 million children live in homes with guns that are loaded and not secured, according to Everytown for Gun Safety. That staggering figure means that even if you do not own a firearm, your children may well play in homes that do have firearms. It also means that we as a community need to have open conversations about how guns are stored in homes.
When your child goes to a friend’s house for the first time, how do you ask about guns in the house without offending that child’s parents? Moms talk amongst themselves and post their concerns on social media, but, for many, a level of discomfort remains. To find a solution, the Front Porch asked two local experts—one a national leader who promotes gun rights and responsibility and a mom who is working to strengthen gun safety laws.
Rob Pincus, a longtime Stapleton resident and parent, and a national leader in the “gun rights” movement, has always worked with guns. He was commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Army Reserve, and worked for years in law enforcement. In 2007, he established I.C.E. Training Company, which provides firearms education and training for individuals as well as law enforcement and the military. He travels internationally to speak on the subject, and is an impassioned and articulate defender of the interpretation of the 2nd Amendment narrowly affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in the District of Columbia v Heller decision in 2008.
Park Hill parent Abbey Winter is the Denver Events Lead for Moms Demand Action, the national organization founded by Boulder’s Shannon Watts in the wake of the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre. Winter is careful to note that Moms Demand Action “respects the Second Amendment and is respectful of responsible gun ownership.” When she canvases for gun sense candidates, she frequently encounters the misconception that her group seeks to take people’s guns. In fact, “We have many gun owners in Moms Demand Action: we want common sense gun legislation and safe gun ownership.”
Pincus freely expresses his frustration with gun-owners who don’t properly secure their firearms. He believes that gun-owners as well as non-gun-owners should be asking questions of other adults regarding gun storage—and as long as people aren’t politicizing the question, no one should be offended by these questions. “If a gun owner does take offense to a judgement-free question about gun storage, they are probably not responsible gun owners. This is a red flag.”
Winter echoes this view. “We have to talk to other parents when our kids are invited into a new home. Couch it in terms that are comfortable for you. You might tell another mom ‘Suzie is getting into everything these days. We don’t have guns, but if you do, how are they stored?’” She observes that parents routinely have conversations about peanuts, pools, and dogs when they first allow their child to spend time in a new home. “We need to treat guns the same way. Most parents don’t take offense, and they often even thank me for asking,” she says.
Moms Demand Action developed a program called Be SMART to promote gun safety. Pincus likewise stresses gun safety in his Family Firearms Safety Seminar, which includes instruction on firearms handling on and off the firing range as well. Whereas Be SMART reminds gun owners to secure weapons, Pincus distinguishes between staging and storing firearms. “Staging” refers to keeping an accessible and loaded firearm in the home, ideally in a safe with a pushbutton radiofrequency ID or biometric lock that can be opened in under a second. “Storing” a gun constitutes keeping a firearm unloaded or disassembled in a locked or keyed safe.
“Merely hiding a gun in your home is a version of staging a gun but that version is almost never appropriate with children in the home,” Pincus states. “I have a three-year old and teenagers in the house. I’ve been around guns all my life. I would not keep guns staged without them being secured from unauthorized use. It’s too easy and too affordable and too irresponsible not to take those steps. It would be negligent of me not to use a quick-access safe.”
Pincus warns gun-owners of the dangers of complacency. They need to examine their own practices and not take for granted that one conversation about guns is adequate to the task. Especially as children grow, the challenges shift. “The biggest myth inside a crowd of gun owners is that because nothing has happened yet, nothing could happen tomorrow; there’s a real complacency.” Parents don’t always account for the changes kids go through as they become teenagers. “Their boundary-pushing increases and their risk-aversion decreases,” cautions Pincus, who works with mental health professionals to find ways to mitigate the risks of gun ownership. “That’s a dangerous combination.”
Teens are especially vulnerable to suicide, as indicated by escalating national numbers, which reflect a tripling in the teen suicide rate from 1999-2014. A bout of depression or other emotional turmoil can be especially dangerous in a household where guns are not properly secured. In Colorado, suicide was the #7 cause of death in 2017, and 50% of all suicides are by firearm, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. A gun that is secured and stored separately from ammunition slows down that impulsive act and allows time for reconsideration or intervention.
While approaching the issue from different angles, Winter and Pincus emphasize the profound responsibilities that come with gun ownership. Both Pincus and Winter insist on the importance of secure firearms storage and talking with other parents about gun storage to safeguard our children. Let’s begin the conversation within our homes and with others.
SMART Gun Safety
- Secure all guns in your home and vehicles
- Model responsible behavior around guns
- Ask about the presence of unsecured guns in other homes
- Recognize the risks of teen suicide
- Tell your peers to be SMART
Moms Demand Action: http://besmartforkids.org/resources/