June 21, the first day of summer, is National ASK (Asking Saves Kids) Day. The ASK Campaign encourages everyone to ask if there are unlocked guns in the homes where children play. The Asking Saves Kids (ASK) Campaign encourages parents to ask a very important question before playdates: “Is there an unlocked gun in your house?” It’s a simple question, but it has the power to save a child’s life.
Keeping a gun in the home increases the risk of injury and death, yet 1 in 3 American homes with children have at least 1 gun.
Every year thousands of kids are killed or injured by guns. When parents think of asking about guns in a playdate’s home, they often can’t imagine how to enter into that conversation.
It doesn’t have to be awkward to ask before your child visits friends. I’ll show you how.
But first let’s review why this is so very important.
Many parents buy a gun to help protect their family, but a gun in the home increases the risk of a family member being hurt or killed by a gun more than preventing a crime.
Kids have natural curiosity and if they find a gun, they are likely to play with it, even when they are taught to not touch guns.
Toy guns and real guns are so similar, it can be difficult to tell them apart.
Several studies over the years show that gun education programs fail. Diane Sawyer’s Young Guns episode showed that even soon after gun safety education, kids will play with a gun and not follow the rules they just learned.
Regardless of the reason for or type of gun, there are guns in 1 in 3 homes with children in America. Too many of those guns are not locked. A gun in the home increases the risk of homicide, suicide, and accidental injuries.
Don’t mistakenly think that your gun is needed to keep your family safe. For every time a gun in the home was used for self-defense, there were 4 unintentional shootings, 7 criminal assaults or homicides, and 11 attempted or completed suicides.
Accidental shootings occur far too often, especially in young children.
See the table below that lists the numbers of leading causes of injury deaths by age. In children under 15, there were 73 unintentional firearm deaths in 2016. That number does not include homicides and suicides.
Sadly there have been too many kids who have been killed by intentional gunfire, both at home and in public areas. The higher the number of guns in a community, the more gun deaths there are.
Our kids must practice active shooter drills at school because school shootings are occurring with more frequency. Many of these shootings are kids who bring their parent’s gun to school.
Suicide attempts with guns are usually fatal. Sadly too many people consider suicide as an option when they’re down.
Having a gun in the home when a teen is depressed increases the risk of death by suicide. Over 80% of teen suicide by firearm is done with a family member’s gun.
Keeping guns locked with the ammunition locked separately is important even when you don’t have young children. It can deter teens from accessing guns in a time of despair.
Hiding guns is not a safe plan. Nearly 80% of kids know where the family gun is hidden. Parents usually don’t realize the kids know.
I’ve seen more than a couple surprised parents when they learn that their child knows where the family gun is stored in a drawer or closet. They presumed the child had no idea about the gun, but kids know things. It’s bad enough if they know your secret hiding place for birthday gifts, but if they know where the unlocked gun is, natural curiosities can take over.
It’s not political
I don’t care if you’re a Republican, Democrat, Liberal, or other political affiliation. This isn’t about politics. It’s about keeping kids safe.
This is not about the Second Amendment. Americans have a right to bear arms. But with rights comes responsibilities.
This is about the responsibilities that come with the right to bear arms. Adults have a responsibility to keep children safe.
Make it less awkward
As parents there are many awkward things we must deal with. Being awkward or difficult doesn’t make it okay to just ignore it if safety is involved.
By introducing safety concerns that are not judgement issues, it can be more natural to then talk about more sensitive topics.
Use these non-controversial openers to start the conversation before playdates.
Allowing a dog who is not friendly and patient around kids to be with the kids is a red flag. Ask if there are pets and how they respond to kids, especially kids they don’t know. If you’re not comfortable with that pet, ask if the parent can keep the kids and pet separate.
When kids are afraid of animals, the other parent needs to be aware.
If there are any pet concerns, see if they can keep the pet in another room while your child is there. If not, have their child to your home instead.
If your child has allergies to animals or foods, the other parent needs to be aware. Talk about the allergy and what can be done to help your child not suffer.
When the parent is not able to keep your child safe from allergens in their home, ask if their child can come to yours instead.
Other safety risks
There are numerous other safety risks that could be used as introductory concerns. You can’t ask everything, but pick the things that are most important to you.
Will the kids be riding bikes or scooters? Are there enough helmets for everyone or should your child bring his own?
Is there a wooded area that will require bug sprays or tick checks after the play date?
If they play outside, how closely are they supervised? Do you need to send along sunscreen?
Does your child need to wear sneakers or will they be staying indoors and the flip flops are okay?
If a parent will be responsible for driving your child, do they have an appropriate car seat or booster seat?
Do they have a trampoline or pool? If so, what are their rules and safety measures?
Be the first to ask a child to your home. With the invitation, list everything you think another parent might be interested in knowing. Hopefully they will reciprocate by giving similar information when they invite your kids over, but if not, ask.
“We’d love to have Johnny over. We have a German Shepard, but he’s really good with kids. If Johnny needs him to be put in the master bedroom, just let me know. We also have a trampoline, but if the kids get on it, a parent is always outside. If that’s not okay, let me know. And we have a rifle, but it’s in the gun safe and the ammunition is locked separately. Is there anything we need to know about Johnny?”
My Pocket Pediatrician
Take a look at Dr. Lili’s comprehensive video on gun safety for more information! Here’s the full version:
And here’s a shorter version with the most important information:
Take the ASK Pledge
Pledge to ASK if there are unlocked guns where your child visits. Encourage friends and family to do the same!
photo credit:Jose Alonso