US & Canada

Readers who ask other parents about guns at home

Boy shooting using his hands Image copyright Thinkstock

After a number of tragedies involving young children finding guns at home, many parents are checking before they allow their youngsters to go on playdates with friends.

It can be an awkward conversation, as our feature on the subject, outlined. And readers tend to agree. Many responded by telling us their experience.

Here is a selection of their comments.

I have asked close mom friends, but have felt awkward asking parents I don't know as well. I have been deliberating about a general Facebook post to all friends, asking that they let me know, just so I can prepare my children when we visit. I have done role-plays with my oldest already. If you see a gun, what do you do? Stop. Don't touch it. Go and tell a grown up. Olivia Davis, Carboro, North Carolina

I am the owner of several firearms myself and if my five-year-old is going to spend any time in a home where she will not be directly observed by either myself or my wife, it is a perfectly reasonable question to ask. I casually ask "Hey, you don't have any loaded guns in the house where the kids might stumble across them, do you?" That usually gets the conversation started and will remind them if they do have any to secure them. I, myself, happily let people know that mine are secured with locks and that the ammunition is kept separately and hidden. James Denton, Garden Grove, California

My wife has had the courage to ask before play dates on several occasions; once receiving the answer that all guns, used for hunting, were secure in a safe. This is a very difficult question for us to ask: We are appalled by this side-arm, assault-rifle culture. Our doctor has encouraged us to ask the question, and we agree that it is important, but it is like asking if a sexual predator lives in the house. Raymond Hogan, Portland, Oregon

When we lived in the US I asked this of every parent. The most surprising was when my best friend (whom I had known before we had kids) told me that her husband owned a gun and kept it locked up and unloaded. He went to the firing range weekly to keep up his skill and I know him to be a sensible, over-cautious person so I allowed playdates ... but I was still very surprised to learn this about him. Now a resident of the UK, I feel relieved not to have to ask! Jenny Miller, London via Seattle, Washington

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Image caption Many readers say they teach their children how to handle guns safely

I moved to the USA four years ago and with two very sociable, elementary-school-age children we had plenty of playdates. We subtly raised the question of whether folks had guns at home and folks were happy to answer our questions. Funny enough no-one asked us if we had firearms ( I guess us being Brits they may have assumed we didn't have firearms). As it turns out , no-one we had playdates with had any firearms. Had any of them had firearms I think I would have politely found a way of not having a playdate. It's definitely an awkward question to ask but essential I think. Ruth, Wales but formerly Pennsylvania

I have asked. My son is nine and the prime age to be caught or lured into playing with a friend's family gun. Two families have been like minded "of course not! No way!" But one actually said yes and explained where it was... not to my satisfaction. I fear gun violence keenly. My children are not allowed to play at homes with guns. Period. Rebecca, Las Vegas, Nevada

Outside of major metropolitan areas it's usually a safe assumption that there will be guns in someone's home. So, my question is rarely, "Do you have guns?". With someone I don't know well, mine is usually, "Do you keep your guns locked up?" If they don't have any, they'll say so. If they do, my follow up question is always "How? Trigger, locked cabinet, or safe?" Robert, Madison, Wisconsin

We do a lot of play dates and time at friends houses. I don't ask if they own guns - we live in the South - I assume they do. I ask if all their guns are secured. It was so uncomfortable at first, but in my neighbourhood people either don't own guns or they have a gun safe/locked cabinet. Those that own guns usually go on to tell me that they are hunting rifles and the ammo is not stored at home or stored in a different safe place. We have to ask. Debra, Dallas, Texas

I've guns at home and two kids, both of which I take shooting. This question has been asked by other parents and I've asked it myself. It's a common sense precaution. That most people don't is a sign of the way the NRA has bullied this country into cowering submission. Mike, Brier, Washington state

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These parents sound pathetic. Being a parent myself and a proud firearms owner, one of the responsibilities is securing them and educating my kid. Because I have done so, she knows what guns are, knows what they can do, and will not touch them without adult supervision...all at the age of six. Rolla, Missouri

Now that my boys are of the age where they go to friends' houses, I have brought up the subject of guns in the house to the other parents. Most parents I ask are surprised but not shy. I make it a point to ask them away from the children, as I have some hunting rifles, but my children do not even know that. They (the parents) understand why I am asking. So far, every parent I've asked has affirmed there is at least one gun in the house (it is Georgia, after all), but all have said they keep them under lock and key. I remain sceptical for some of them, however. They may simply claim they have all the safeguards just to end the conversation. If nothing else, perhaps bringing up the topic will get them all to re-think what they have and fix any accessibility issues. Shawn Cook, Braselton, Georgia

I have raised two children in Texas, coming from Scotland 17 years ago. They were babies when we arrived. I ALWAYS asked if there was a gun in the house before letting my children go on playdates, even if it meant they couldn't go. When I was a child, hide and seek was a favourite game. I never encouraged my children to play it here. Not a game you want your children playing in this part of the world! I recently helped a friend clear out her parents' house. They were both in their 80s. They each had a gun in their bedside cabinet. Judith Brocklehurst, Texas

We're Brits with two grade school boys who moved here four years ago. Like the writer, we live in "a liberal enclave of Washington DC" ). My boys are hugely social and have friends over, or go to friends for playdates pretty much every day after school. The total number of playdates I've arranged must now be well into the hundreds, with a very wide variety of people from all sorts of ethnic and social backgrounds. I can honestly say I have never, ever asked any parent about guns in the house and more importantly nor have any of the dozens of parents who have sent their kids over to us. That's not because it's too delicate, it's because it's a non-issue, at least where we live. And please don't think I'm pro-gun. It's a plague and a curse. Jon, Washington DC

My wife and I moved into a new neighbourhood with the neighbours across the street on a private road always inviting our two-year-old to come over and play "anytime" with their two toddlers. The answer to the gun question was "No. Do you?". But, in about one hour of my asking the question, shooting from a firearm was resounding through out the neighbourhood coming from, what sounded like, right out behind a neighbours garage. Time for target practice? This went on for a well over an hour - continuous shooting. We do not have guns but, it sounded to me like at least 500 rounds were shot off. Even if I'm off or exaggerating; it was a lot for a sleepy little neighbourhood on a private road of which gun shots had never been heard before or since. This was one and a half years ago now. I never trusted those neighbours with my little son after that. Richard Lasdoce Gorman Sr, Leicester, Massachusetts

As an ex-pat living and working in the USA I have seen the situation from both sides of the "pond". I used to own guns in the UK until the government decided to remove them and not let me keep them anymore. When I came to the USA I finally got to enjoy my sport again and I can now as a US Citizen freely own guns. I keep a loaded gun in fingerprinted strongbox beside the nightstand and the rest of my guns are in a very secure safe all the time. Whenever people visit with children I move the strongbox gun to the main safe as additional protection. I could not bear to think of the guns getting into a child's hands and the ensuing horrific scenario. It's a simple scenario, either secure your guns or face the consequences. I have had conversations with visiting parents with accompanying children and most, if not all, accept and welcome my explanation. Some, however, do not even ask which I think is probably even more disturbing. Bill, Texas

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