“The irresistible temptation to ‘play’ with guns…” That description was the opening statement on a TV trailer for Diane Sawyer’s documentary on children and guns in the home.
When my boys were small, I was adamant that we would not have toy guns in the house. I wanted my kids to know that guns were NOT toys and that imaginary play need not have anything to do with guns or killing-violence. Then, we would watch an episode of Bugs Bunny together. I do love that clever rabbit staring down the end of a double barrel shot gun.
Such are the mixed messages we send to our children.
One Saturday as the neighborhood kids were playing outside, I realized that they were all playing some variation of Cops and Robbers. My boys had fashioned ‘guns’ out of Legos in order to be a part of the play. Here we go… as my idealistic, adamant (and probably short-sighted) beliefs were, once again, being tested by reality.
“What was it I REALLY wanted to teach my children about guns?” I thought to myself. I am still answering that question to this day.
Diane Sawyer and her team at 20/20 gave me another opportunity to think about guns, and to look at our family’s ideas about them when they did a documentary on the subject back in 2014. It was an opportunity to revisit what my husband and I believe and teach about guns, but more importantly, what we want to continue to teach. You can find the 20/20 episode online if you’re interested. It’s called Young Guns
In one year, more preschoolers are killed by guns than law enforcement officers. Guns claim the lives of seven kids EVERY day in our country, and that’s one reason I have brochures in our office Health Portfolios to remind parents of this reality. According to the Children’s Defense Fund, about 40% of Americans have a gun in their home. Do you? Do you ask about guns when your child goes to play at a friend’s house?
In the essence of full disclosure, my husband and I do not own a gun and would not have one in our home. As a pediatrician, I found it important though to ask other parents about their choices regardless of my personal choices.
“I hope you don’t mind me asking a few questions about the kids’ safety…” I would ask as I dropped one of the kids off for a playdate.
“We all know how curious kids can be. I just want you to know that I’ve spoken to my kids about NOT playing with guns if, by chance, you keep one in your home. Do you?”
Yep, I said those things more than once. In truth, even before Diane Sawyer’s 20/20 year-long documentary, I knew that just talking to kids about gun safety was not enough. Hiding guns, if they are kept in the home, is not enough. Kids are curious, and if they find a gun, they are more likely to pick it up than they are to leave it alone… no matter what messages they have heard from adults. The first step down that terrible road-to-an-accidental-gun-in-the-hand-of-a-child begins with simply seeing the gun. Too often, it ends in tradgedy.
Children, mine and yours, will take that step to pick up a gun … no matter what we think they will do.
The kids are no longer toddlers making Lego weapons … but I’m glad they were all willing to engage and discuss guns. Every discussion we have will build on what they were taught as little kids. Someday, my children will be grown-ups, perhaps with kids of their own, and they will need to think carefully about owning a gun or choosing to keep one in the home.
Until then, I have to assume that when they see a gun in someone else’s home, they will pick it up.
by Gayle Schrier Smith, MD