Have you had to have the kids-and-guns conversation with friends and family yet? It’s supposed to go like this:
You: Before we can be guests in your home, I need to know if you keep guns in your home and, if so, if they are stored according to the NRA’s guidelines that guns and ammunition are locked separately in an approved gun safe?
Them: Of course! Would you like to get a little tour so that you can see that our guns are properly stored to keep our community’s children safe?
In reality, that conversation has only happened for me twice. (Thank you, thank you, thank you, to the parents who did so). Dozens of times, though, it went like this:
Them: No, we just keep them in a room where they kids aren’t allowed to go.
Them: Well, they’re put away where the kids can’t find them.
Them: I have no idea where the gun is. It’s been so long since anyone used it, I’m not sure anyone knows where it is.
Them: My husband maintains the guns in our house, and he doesn’t tell any of us where they are.
Them: My kids know not the touch guns. They’ll make sure yours don’t go near them, either.
Them: The purpose of a gun is to kill intruders. I can’t do that if it’s unloaded or locked up, so I don’t unload or lock guns.
Here are the places people I love keep loaded guns: in the china cabinet, in the spice rack, in the glove compartment, under the driver’s seat, under the mattress, in the master bedroom closet, in the towel closet, in the nightstand, under the pillow, in the basement, in the garage, free floating in their purse.
Speaking to them directly has never worked. At times, it has produced outright lies from them about how they store guns. Offering to bring gun locks has not worked. Offering to buy gun safes has not worked. They want their guns loaded and easily available, and they want that more than they want to honor what they see as my unreasonable (and even dangerous) request that they unload them and lock them up.
They get defensive, saying that they are responsible gun owners. Not only is it impossible to be a responsible gun owner, these folks aren’t even close to responsible gun owners. They forget that the gun is in the unlocked glove compartment, and then they let the child play in the front seat. They come into my home, lying to me about bringing a gun, and then can’t keep track of all its parts, so I find the magazine, for example, in the laundry hamper, where it fell out of their pants pocket.
They feel criticized. After all, they raised their children with loaded guns all over the house, and no one died. I must be saying that their parenting was wrong if I do things differently.
They feel shamed in front of my children, as I have to explain to my children that we are unable to visit them in their home because they refuse to lock up guns. Yes, my children will eventually conclude that their friends and family members choose guns over them, and I don’t know how to make that any easier for them to bear. But better for them to have fewer relationships, even with people they would love, than to die in a gun accident.
They feel that they have the right to lie about the guns they keep because they couldn’t live with themselves if an intruder attacked my children in their home. (These people live in relatively safe places, not on pirate ships, but they insist that their world is full of danger. That is, they overestimate the danger they actually face but underestimate to danger that guns produce.)
They feel ostracized, because I will never, ever visit them in their home, nor are they permitted to come in mine with a gun–and having done so against my wishes in the past means they can’t come in again.
They judge me as overreacting, ignoring the fact that gun deaths are the third leading cause of death in children in the US. They think it is reasonable to buckle kids up in the car or make them wear a life jacket in a canoe, but they call me overprotective for asking them to lock up guns.
The facts are overwhelmingly clear: having a gun present in the home increases the risk of death by gun, whether by accident, by suicide, or by homicide. The chance has always been greater that you or your children would die by your own gun than that you would kill an intruder, and as crime decreases, that chance that owning a gun will save, rather than end, your life, gets even smaller. Those already at risk of suicide, such as teens and the elderly, face even greater risks.
It is hard to accept that fact for some people. Talking to people about guns is likely to produce the backfire effect–it just makes them double down, in part because when we’re talking about guns, we’re also talking about masculinity, race, the right to violence, fear, politics, and a particular vision of America (as a place of freedom but also a war zone).
It also just hard to account for all the ways that guns can be dangerous–from accidental discharge while cleaning to overshooting during target practice and killing the children you didn’t realize were behind your target to a child stealing your gun and taking it to school to commit a mass shooting to kids playing with it with no intention of shooting it to forgetting where you put it to a burglar stealing it for use in a crime to that intruder you were always so afraid of wresting it from your hands and killing you with it.
At minimum, they may accept the statistics but see themselves as exempt from them. And, indeed, some people are. Sometimes, an intruder is stopped by a gun. But it’s really unlikely–and I suspect that gun owners suffer from a lethal kind of Dunning-Kruger Effect: guns are so obviously dangerous that the people who are most thoughtless about their danger are most likely to own them.
That’s been my experience, anyway. There are exceptions, I know, but those exceptions aren’t enough to stop the incredible levels of death by gun we see in the US.
If know I talk about this a lot, but I live in a dangerous place: Utah, like all states with lenient gun laws, has higher rates of death by gun. And, beyond that, I’m really sad about it. I wish my children could visit their friends in their homes. I wish they could visit family members there. I wish we could go to the movies or a concert or church without having reason to worry, and I’m so, so angry that people in my community and family won’t make the world safe for my children in this one simple, easy way, because it diminishes our relationship when they don’t.