Crouching Toddler, Hidden Gun

When my daughter was 2, she had a friend from preschool named Jake. They loved to play together. His mom would bring him to our house, or we would go to their house. Sometimes, I’d drop her off and Jake’s mom would watch them both while I ran a few errands. Well, okay, she would sit downstairs with a cup of coffee and the newspaper, while the 2 little ones played together upstairs. If she heard a crash or crying, she would go investigate. (As much as I would have preferred she sit up there and keep an eye on them, I certainly couldn’t begrudge a mother a few minutes to relax.)

One sunny afternoon when the kids were running around our backyard, the mom and I sat watching them and chatting. I had just read an article in a parenting magazine about kids getting a hold of guns in the house, and the devastating consequences that often followed. We were both concerned about the issue. So I said to the mom, “You don’t have any guns in your house, do you?”

She replied, “Actually, we do. Steve keeps one in the bedroom.”

Oh. Well, this was something I had not known. Okay, processing the information… I continue. “But it’s not in any place where a child can reach it, is it?”

Thinking, she said, “Yes, it is. It’s in the closet.”

I gulped and stammered, “Um, on a high shelf, right? Or in a locked box?”

God bless her for her honesty. But she revealed, “No, it’s actually right there in the middle. And Jake’s a climber, so he could certainly get to it.”

By now, my breathing had gotten quick and shallow. One last question would show I had nothing to fear: “But, it’s not loaded, right?”

She shrugged, “It is. Steve says there’s no point in having a gun if it’s not ready to be used at any moment.”

Things are rather a blur after that, but as I recall, that playdate ended soon after. When I thought about my precious little girl playing upstairs in her friend’s house, with no adult watching them… and thinking about how curious they could be at that age… and that bedroom closet just down the hall…. My blood ran cold.

Jake continued to come to our house any time the kids wanted to play together, but I never let my child play in his house again unless I stayed right there with them the whole time. Jake’s mom thought I was overprotective, and couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t prefer to take a few minutes to enjoy a cup of coffee and some friendly chat down in the kitchen.

To my detriment, I couldn’t bring myself to tell her that I was scared the kids would go “exploring” and find the gun, and someone–quite possibly my baby–would get shot. I couldn’t think of a nice way to say, “I think it’s crazy/irresponsible/downright dangerous to keep a loaded gun where a child can access it!” So, I didn’t tell her why I felt compelled to stay with the kids. I just stayed–or insisted we have the playdate at our house, where there were no guns. I was afraid she’d think I was calling her a bad mother for keeping a loaded gun in her home where her little boy could find it. After all, she wasn’t worried about it; why should I be?

I knew she loved her boy. She adored him! But you know what? Keeping that gun loaded and basically out in the open, just sitting on a closet shelf, was stupid. I’m not saying she was a bad mother. But I am saying that was a reckless, naive, dangerous thing to do. And I couldn’t allow my child to be in such a risky environment.

What should I have said to the mom back then? What can you say if you find yourself in a similar situation, and just can’t bring yourself to say that you’re scared your child is going to get hurt? “My husband and I have a policy that our child is not allowed to play in a home that has a gun.” Or, if you’re single, “I know you’re a wonderful mom, but I have this thing about guns, and I just can’t let him/her play in a house that has one.” No accusations, no emotional outbursts. Just, “Sorry, can’t do that. How about this alternative instead?”

While I wish I had handled things more honestly and sensitively with Jake’s mom, I’m sure that I would do so now. I’m also sure that, as curious as kids are, it was just a matter of time before that loaded gun was found. And, as I’ve learned from my radKIDS classes time and time again, the first thing a kid will do with a gun is point it at themselves or another kid and pull the trigger.

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