Maybe you missed it, as you (and probably your children) were discussing Jeff Bezos’ private parts and the amazing scandals piling up in Virginia. Nevertheless, this past week the House of Representatives held its first hearing on gun violence in eight years.
The testimony at the hearing centered on a bill that would make it harder for a person to buy a gun without a thorough background check. Supporters pointed out that right now it’s ridiculously easy to get lethal weapons from an unlicensed seller who is not going to check to see if said purchaser might have a record of violence, stalking or involuntary commitment for mental illness. That fact should surprise and appall us, but by this time it probably doesn’t. By now, your kids might think everyone has a gun and feel strange if you don’t!
Opponents of the bill clutched the Second Amendment and argued that the real reason we have so many deaths by gunfire is … well, take a guess at what they argued were the reasons: A) Guns, B) Bullets, C) Immigrants.
Answer: All the above.
Representative Matt Gaetz [more/biased info on him], a Florida Republican read a short list of people who had been shot by undocumented immigrants. Then he said, “I hope we do not forget the pain and anguish and sense of loss felt by those all over the country who have been the victims of violence at the hands of illegal aliens. …Better background checks would not have stopped many of the circumstances I raised, but a wall, a barrier on the southern border may have, and that’s what we’re fighting for.” There are a lot of lawmakers prepared to say almost anything in their role as surrogates for the National Rifle Association. But it is still surprising that during this latest hearing the main gun advocate was from Florida.
On Valentine’s Day we’ll observe the first anniversary of the Parkland High School shootings in which one student with a gun took the lives of 17 people. We just passed the second anniversary of the fatal shooting of 5 people in the baggage claim area of the Fort Lauderdale airport, which occurred six months after 49 people were shot to death at a nightclub in Orlando. And it was just a couple of weeks ago that a young man walked into a bank in Sebring, Fla., pulled out a pistol, forced 5 women to lay on the ground and shot each one in the back of the head. All these atrocities happened in Congressman Gaetz’ state. All the gunmen were native-born Americans.
The House bill I mentioned is unlikely to even get brought up in the Senate if it passes the House. But in 2017 the House and Senate did get together to revoke an Obama-era regulation that had made it harder for mentally ill people to purchase a gun.
We have terrible gun problems in this country not just because firearms are all over the place, but also because of the careless, and often stupid attitude so many people have toward them. This includes the Congress. Their rejection of legislation of which the country overwhelmingly approves helps perpetuate the attitude that guns are a casual part of everyday life, like your wallet or socks — something you wear when you go out to buy a loaf of bread, leave laying around the house and treat in general with less care and discretion than a light bulb.
This is the kind of thinking that gives us endless mayhem involving violent, semi-deranged young men who just grab one of the family guns and mow down five people in a bar. Toddlers who shoot themselves when they stumble across a gun that Dad or Grandpa left sitting on the bed, or find a rifle in the back seat of the car and accidentally kill Mom while she’s pulling into the preschool parking lot. We hear stories like that every day. I don’t think it is all due to caravans of immigrants coming to the border.
With all this, is my child safe to have a playdate?
Thus, one of the parents on our parents list asked what everyone does to make sure their children are safe on play dates. How does one bring up the question about how the parents of your kid’s friends deal with their guns? It is amazing this question must be asked, but we live where we live. Here is the original question:
“I’m wondering how you navigate that awkward “do you have guns? Are they safely locked up?” question when you’re arranging a playdate, etc. for your kids? I feel like the easiest way to ask is just to put it out there with something like, “Hi, I’m _____. We’d love to have _____ over for a playdate. We don’t have any guns in the house. Do you?” Hopefully, they’ll then feel free to respond. Buuuuuut, what if they say yes? Do you allow your kids to play at people’s houses who own guns and say they’re secured? And if you don’t, then how do you tell them you don’t want your kid playing at their house?! I think playdates are great for our kids and great for meeting new people, but I can’t seem to figure this out given our current world. The end result for me is that I avoid setting anything up with people we don’t already know well, which feels like the opposite of what I want to be doing as I follow Jesus and try to “welcome the stranger.”
There was a lot more dialogue about this than there were answers on the parents list. But they were so useful, I decided to reprint them. No names are attached, of course. If you want to be on the parents list, you can be. (I also added a hyperlink for Eddie the Eagle and left out what I thought was extraneous). Here they are:
1) I include this gun question along with questions about food allergies, pets (one of my kids has been bitten twice!), car seats, and other safety things I cover when doing a first play date with a family. Every parent I’ve asked this question has thanked me for asking it.
As for what do when I learn there is an unsecured firearm in the house, I don’t allow my kids to play there without me with them and I keep my kid in eyesight. I’m happy to meet up elsewhere or host the kids at my house instead.
2) I ask about guns when I’m trying to find out a little bit about how a family feels secure in their houses. I ask about guns and pharmaceuticals (child proof caps?). I’ve only had one person push back (and not much) about my guns question. This may be because of where we live – not so many families are gun enthusiasts here in über-liberal West Philadelphia. Every family I’ve asked these types of questions of has thanked me for asking them as well.
I’m always prepared to discuss why I think gun locks and gun safes are necessary when I ask these questions but the conversation has only gone that far one time.
Personally, I’m okay with a family who keeps guns in their house if they’re secured properly — especially if they’re hunting rifles and such. Someone who keeps their guns in a safe understands that they’re machines for killing (people, game, whatever) and potentially incredibly dangerous. Someone who keeps their gun “hidden” in their house so they can get them quickly if necessary is not dealing with reality and their worldview includes what is, to me, an unacceptable level of risk for my kids playing in their house. There is probably a spectrum of people in between those examples but I’m really only okay with my kids playing in the houses of the folks on the first extreme. If I meet parents of kids my sons make friends with who are of the “I keep my guns hidden in my house” variety, I plan to say something along the lines of “We’d love to have _____ over to our house but we’re just not comfortable with firearms in the house that aren’t secured so [my kids] won’t be able to come over to _____’s house.” People who aren’t comfortable with that stance have their own stuff to work out — I’m okay with some tension between me and another parent if that helps keep my kids safer.
3) Our seminarian’s cohort, along with the pastors and the Leadership Team, wrote a teaching on guns and gun violence based on our discussion at our quarterly public meeting. It might be helpful for you as you consider this subject. You may have seen it before, but if not, you can find it on the Way of Jesus website here.
4) I hadn’t seen that summary from the cohort. It’s wonderful. This dialogue is making me think I might want to “struggle more” with this as our kids start to get into play dates at other kids homes. I honestly hadn’t thought of it, nor to ask about other hazards. Glad we are village parenting!
5) I think these are all good ideas to address the concern of kids, playdates and guns. To add another piece, talking to our kids about guns will be important, too. I grew up with a video called Eddie the Eagle [from the NRA}, which taught kids about gun safety. The whole thing is based around the question, what do you do if you see [find] a gun? And the answer, according to Eddie was: Stop, Don’t Touch, Leave the Area, Tell an Adult. I believe Eddie is still around as a friend of mine said they covered the topic, with Eddie the Eagle, at her son’s pre-school. This of course, isn’t going to address a philosophical or theological perspective with kids, but it does address the practical instance of encountering a gun, if for some reason it happens, even with the pre-playdate conversations.
6) I’m so glad that you brought up the importance of teaching our children about how to react in the presence of a firearm. Unfortunately, we have sensed the necessity of having this conversation with our kids from a very young age – three or four years old, I think (?). The first conversation may have happened after I witnessed a few kids playing with a handgun on my street. Also, when my dad was a child in the 1950s, his best friend was accidentally killed while playing with a loaded pistol. He often shares concerns about gun safety with our family.
We’ve tried to have this talk in a less-worrying way that focuses more on being prepared, similar to learning about how to react in case of a fire. I know, however, that some kids do worry about being shot, especially if they participate in school lockdown drills, see certain things in visual media, or have had the misfortune of being in the presence of gun violence. So… I think we also need to allow our children the space to express how they feel about all of this, and to practice good listening. That may also help us to discern how to be more proactive.
It is important to talk about everything with each other and our kids, isn’t it!
I suppose we’ll have to talk a lot if everyone is going to have their privates exposed and their guns strewn around their privacy. Here is one last word from Jesus that might be comforting in the face of this troubling era. I like it in The Voice translation: “I have told you these things so that you will be whole and at peace. In this world, you will be plagued with times of trouble, but you need not fear; I have triumphed over this corrupt world order” (John 16:33).