Because You Never Can Tell With Some People

It wasn’t something John and I thought about right off the bat. Nope, there were other more obvious and urgent ways to protect that new baby we’d been lucky enough to adopt.

In fact, we didn’t actually worry about Jacob playing in a house with guns until he was, actually, playing in a house with guns and he was out of our sight.

It was a day or so before we were to leave Connecticut and move back to the DC area.  Our neighbors, the Planters, had us over for a good-bye dinner. It was John, me, Linda and Paul, their two grown daughters and their significant others. The eldest daughter, Jade, had a daughter Juniper, who was Jacob’s age.

All was well for a while. They were nice people. Linda had retired from an insurance company and and divided her time between cooking and playing classical piano.We could hear it whenever the windows were open, all summer long.   She was quite good. Paul was a upper end contractor.  He was also a hunter.

For some reason that I have conveniently forgotten and  for which John will never forgive me, I brought up guns and gun control at one point during dinner. It was then that I learned that our soon to be former neighbors believed that they needed an arsenal to fight off the ” black booted” thugs from the government. The US government. Black helicopters. They thought that the 2nd Amendment guaranteed that he could have any weapon that he government had. Including nukes.


It was at about that time that I realized that Jacob and Juniper were downstairs. They were being supervised by another relative, so I hadn’t been concerned.  But the discussion made me a little uneasy.

I knew there were guns in the house, but I no longer felt quite comfortable that these folks were reasonable. I didn’t know where the guns were, whether they were locked away, or left leaning against the wall somewhere accessible to my 4 year old son.

*     *     *

That was the last time for many years that I didn’t ask about guns in the home of anyone Jacob played with.  Even when the parents seemed like they didn’t fear the guv’ment.  Even when they seem like normal folks.  Liberals, even.

It is incredibly awkward to ask people if they have guns in their house — akin to saying “excuse me, are you an irresponsible parent who would endanger your own child(ren) as well as mine?”

Still, I had to ask. Every time Jacob went someplace new for many years.

I did it by lying through my teeth.  To new friends and acquaintances.  I shamelessly blamed my husband:

“I have the most overprotective husband” I would sigh.  He made me promise to ask everyone before letting Jacob go play … You don’t have guns in your house, do you?  Arsenic?  Nukes?” I’d laugh, and the other mother or father would laugh too.

And then they’d answer.

“No, of course not,” was generally the answer.  And then I was comfortable letting my son go to their house.

One time, though, I did get a “yes, we have guns in our house” answer.  I was surprised. You will be shocked to know that I kept an open mind.

That time, my friend Suzanne invited me and Jacob over, and took me down to her basement and showed me where her husband kept his hunting rifles. In a locked, secure gun safe.

If I had learned that the person had guns and did not secure them, their kid would have been welcome to play at our house any old time.  But my son would not have been allowed to play there.  Nope.  Not a chance.  It is simple common sense.


Naturally, I felt bad for blaming John.  Oh who am I kidding.  No I didn’t.  It was much less awkward, doing it that way — it made the other parents feel less threatened, less like I thought they were crazy, irresponsible, folks who wanted to kill children.  With my way, well, I had the comfortable knowledge that my kid wouldn’t become a statistic. It was worth sacrificing John’s pride for peace of mind. Especially because he still doesn’t know I did it.

Friday, June 21st is “Ask About Guns Day,” sponsored by the American Academy of Pediatrics.  Because all too often pediatricians are called on to try to save children who are hurt by guns.  They know that asking can save lives.

ASK.  Because you don’t want your kid (or grandkid or really any kid) knockin’ on heaven’s door, do you?  I just had to ask.


Filed under Family, Gun control, Health and Medicine, Neighbors

79 responses to “Because You Never Can Tell With Some People

    • Thanks. It’s such an uncomfortable subject, but an important one. And of course, this all happened many years ago. My son is now 23 and I never get to question the folks he hangs out with any more!


  1. I hate to admit this but there is a gun in my house. There used to be more guns in my house, but hubby sold them. Hubby has tried to sell his last handgun, but no takers so far because it’s very hard to sell a handgun legally in Canada. It is locked in a safe, with a trigger guard & everything, so Jacob could definitely come to my house.


    • I don’t really have a problem with responsible people. It’s the other ones.

      And this was a long time ago — Jacob is now 22! He rarely lets me contact his friends’ parents these days.


  2. I’m rarely asked since we shoot candles in the back yard at least once a year – but I do believe in securing them. I take far more care with them than my folks did – of course having your gun expert dad shoot a hole in his own hand in the living room will make you much more aware of the real dangers.


    • Oh boy! We’re always going to be on different sides on parts of this issue. But I would trust you to not let kids near them.


      • My pop had a very odd view of guns – he felt that kids were more endangered by their curiosity than they were by knowing how to handle guns – it would be hard to justify that kind of thinking today. I don’t see them as sinister in and of themselves though. I think it’s a must to keep them secured – well except for the non-functional blunderbuss above the mantle. I know that things can go wrong so very fast and a tragedy is never worth the risk. I would totally understand a mom asking, although here in the Ozarks guns are pretty common in people’s homes or even cars.


        • I think that’s probably true. But not everyone has guns and there is danger in that curiosity especially with kids. But irresponsibility plays a big role in the news headlines too.

          I don’t fault you or others who have them and keep them secured and don’t do stupid things. But when my son was little, I protected him. Now I just keep my fingers crossed!


          • I think the bottom line is that no matter how much you teach your kid about guns, it’s never safe to leave them unsecured around them – it’s more dangerous than leaving your car keys with your 6-year-old.


  3. You could easily have titled this post, “People Be Cray.” Because really, people are crazy. I mean, nukes??? Really??

    If I had kids, I’d be a classic neurotic, overprotective mother. I’d probably send my kid to school wearing Kevlar. You BET I’d ask the kid’s friends if they had any unsecured guns in the house. I just had no idea that parents would also have to ask, “Do you have any armed nuclear warheads on your property?”


  4. What a great idea! I can’t believe, overprotective mom that I am, that I never asked this question.


    • It was a different time when our kids were little. Until I knew that my neighbors wanted to harbor nukes, I didn’t think of it either.


  5. We just had a situation with my grandchild and a relative who is a hunter. We thought all the guns were empty, but on the day we left found out they weren’t. Next time, we will confirm!


  6. Great story, Elyse. I hate guns. I truly hate them. I never thought about asking if someone one has a gun in their home. Good call.


  7. cooper

    You lived next door to the McCartney’s???? Awesome….


  8. It seems simple enough, doesn’t it? Just ask. I wouldn’t even think of asking, of course, because in Canada we do not have that “2nd Amendment”. That being said, I remember vividly when my sister married her second husband and moved with her 3 and 6 year old to the US. When I first visited their home and saw guns on display and was told there were more in the house I was shocked. I didn’t want to leave the kids there and was frantically in my head trying to figure out how to save them. Many sleepless nights and not always friendly discussions with my brother-in-law somehow they managed to grow into adulthood. They were lucky. It still makes me shake when I think about it.


    • That is scary and true. I didn’t worry about many of my relatives. One cousin hunts, but we aren’t close. But I eat there are lots of fights within families over this issue.



  9. I would like to add only one thing. Guns with ammo in them can kill people. Our guns are never loaded until they are about to be fired. And all ammo is locked up. But it is a good thing to ask about guns in someone’s house. There are a lot of ignorant people who keep loaded guns anywhere in their house.

    And even if I teach my child gun safety, when it’s age appropriate, and supervise any and all shooting, there’s no guarantee my kid’s friends’ parents have done the same with them.


    • Good points. But there have been several recent incidents where folks thought the gun was unloaded but it wasn’t.

      And you’re so right about other kids’ parents, as well. You just don’t know.

      Then you hope that when your kid grows up there will be less to worry about. That ain’t necessarily so …


  10. Luanne



  11. bigsheepcommunications

    It never occurred to me to even ask that question when my kids were little (wish I had), but absolutely every parent should be asking that question today.


    • All s well that ends well. I wouldn’t lose any sleep over it. I think we are all much more aware.

      And if I hadn’t had crazy neighbors I wouldn’t have thought to ask, either.


  12. Glad to learn I was not the only one who asked that question. Every time one of my sons went to a new home, I always asked the parent about guns in the home. Most seemed appreciative that I had asked. Far too many children are killed by household guns that someone “didn’t realize was loaded.” As a pediatrician, I always asked my patients’ parents as well, not to get into a gun debate, but to make sure the guns were properly locked away. Children’s safety was my job, after all. So imagine my horror when Florida made it illegal for doctors to ask patients about guns in the home. Luckily, that was since overturned. I don’t live in that state, but it was still an eye-opener.

    Excellent post! Also, I wanted to stop by and say hi. Hi! I miss the blogosphere, including your site, but I’m getting LOTS done on my book. 🙂


  13. I’ve asked about guns (my husband is a pediatrician, and unfortunately, has treated kids with bullet wounds), but no parent has ever asked me the question. I think it’s because I give off this left-wing-liberal vibe, so people assume there is no way I would have guns in my home. As a rule, we tend to steer clear of families who giving off the gun-nutty vibe. How did your relationship with the family in this anecdote progress so far without them revealing their gun-nuttiness? I dropped out of a play group once when a Mom put a John McCain lawn sign in front of her house. 😉


    • They were neighbors who we saw occasionally socially. We knew he hunted, but it was fairly rural CT, lots of people hunted. We generally avoided the topic, actually. Until I opened up my big mouth, that is. But I’ve never forgotten that shock — that seemingly normal people could fear black helicopters landing on the golf course behind their house and charging in. Really bizarre.

      I give off a lefty vibe, too, I am proud to say. So I don’t recall being asked, either.

      And good for you for getting out of that playgroup. You want your kids to associate with people who will try to figure out how to combat problems, not take a break from campaigning …


  14. Clinton

    The general stormed into the scientist’s lab. “Scien! I’ve lost my patience! Is this weapon ready or not?”

    “Yes Gen, it’s ready. It has been for a while.”

    “Why didn’t you contact me!?”

    “I can’t find a way to test it. I’ve afraid that it would destroy everything.”

    “What do you mean, everything?”

    “I mean that the weapon would unravel the fabric of creation. It is untestable.”

    “I don’t believe you” And with that the general reached out and pressed the red bu……


  15. If someone makes you feel badly b/c you asked then you know who the irresponsible party is!

    Well done – MJ


    • The story I told Guap above was the only time when a parent made me uncomfortable, But this was all at an earlier time, the 90s and early 2000s when folks weren’t quite so defensive about owning guns.


  16. Guns in houses. What parent wouldn’t be nervous


  17. There are several bits that I find hard to belief: you blaming John, you lying, you instigating a discussion … but I not surprised you have a good point.


  18. lwk2431

    I know how you feel. When our kids were younger I was always asking parents where my kids were playing, “Do you keep drugs in your house?”
    Probably wouldn’t have let them play at your house after your reading your “About” page.

    The vast majority of people who own guns store and control them responsibly. You only hear about the idiots ever once in a while. I don’t think I would want my kids around parents so irresponsible that they didn’t take protecting their family seriously.



    • I really think it is all about responsibility. I did not prohibit my son from playing with the one friend whose father hunted. They were responsible parents.

      There is also a question of what kind of guns. Hunters have rifles and need them to hunt. I don’t hunt, but I get that others do and don’t judge. But nobody needs an assault weapon. So if I’d found that someone had such a weapon, then, nope, regardless of storage, Jacob wouldn’t have been hanging out there.

      The drugs I “do” are all legal. In fact, I emphasize to my son and his friends that there can even be problems with legal, legitimately prescribed drugs — given by folks who know what they’re doing. What do you think the chances of having something go wrong if Joe-Bob down the street cooks something up? It made them think.


  19. I am so paranoid of guns (lost a loved one that way), I won’t allow guns in my house. Thanks for reminding me to ask about other people’s houses!


    • So sorry about your loss. Really. When it comes down to it, it is people who are loved who are lost. That is what we have to remember and prevent.


  20. I learned the hard way, that even the most responsible gun owners, like grandfathers are also human and make mistakes like leaving a loaded gun in his nightstand when his very curious 2 year old grandson was visiting. He simply never thought a 2 year old boy was capable of finding it. The tap on heavens door was scary enough!
    You did the right thing by asking, because even though their own children may be aware and respect the danger of these weapons in the house, the expectation that everyone who enters their home will as well is unrealistic.


    • I remember your story well, Lisa. And it still makes me shudder.

      And you’re right — nobody wants an accident to happen, but we are all careless with what we are used to having around. That’s why parents really need to ask.


  21. You are an awesome mom! You had the right to ask and if pride was sacrificed so much better than a child, especially your own.

    I adore you for writing this.


    • Thanks, Val. I read a heart-wrenching article in a medical journal by a pediatrician earlier this week, which is where I learned of this “Day.” The gist of it was, “we can’t bring them back.”

      I don’t have to worry about this. Or actually, I don’t have the opportunity to question my son’s friends’ parents — he is now nearly 22! But he knows how we feel about guns, and I think he will make wise choices.

      But as I’ve said, I think since the sides are drawn, it is getting harder. More awkward. Still, if you have a kid (especially a boy because statistically, boys are more likely to be involved), you have to ask.


  22. So glad I don’t have to deal with this over here!


  23. So true. We just never know. Nor do we know if the weapons will be loosed in a moment gone postal by either parent or even child. Such is the stuff of our news almost daily. Sadly. I recently put a quote on Facebook that said, you think they are nice people with nice jobs in a nice house with nice cars and nice family and nice friends… Nice is just one letter away from ICE. Scary but you are so right to be safe rather than sorry as some parents still are. And what are husbands for but using an excuse??? LOL j/k ❤


  24. So did you ever get any push back from asking?


    • No, but it was a different time, actually. I think that non-gun folks are more aggressive and gun-folks are more defensive now.

      I did forget to ask when we first got back from Europe where it wasn’t an issue. And Jacob went to a house next door to close friends of ours. Alex called up and told us that the husband had met them at the door with a shotgun when they went over to introduce themselves upon moving in next door. The couple then went through a messy divorce, the husband took most or all of the guns, and the unstable wife remained. Needless to say I remembered an urgent appointment for Jacob ….

      That said, the woman, her ex-husband and both of their children are still alive. They just don’t talk to me. And I can live with that.


  25. You have every right to ask, and if my wife will use me as an excuse like you did, I wouldn’t mind. After all, there are many cases when children are killed and injured by guns, than there are cases of government agents confiscating somebody’s guns.


    • What? The guv’ment ain’t after the guns? You sure about that?

      For the record I used my husband as an excuse whenever I felt awkward. As a stay-at-home-mom at the time, I was the first line of defense. I also had to meet with and chat with the other parents much more than John did. This is actually one instance where he wouldn’t have minded.


  26. My dad was a cop in San Francisco. We (my three sisters and I) knew to never touch my dad’s service revolver which was kept on top of the highboy in my parents room.

    My husband is retired military and has guns. They are all secure in in a locked gun safe and I don’t know where the key is, nor do I care. If people are responsible, I have no real issue with gun ownership, but I do worry about the ease that people have in acquiring them. My husband and dad had to qualify with firearms because of their jobs. I have two big dogs and a telephone. I have no need for a firearm.

    Never feel guilty about being a caring parent. You have every right to know if there are firearms in a persons home. I’d always rather be safe than sorry.


    • I worry (worried) about the accidental finding of a gun and natural curiosity of boys.

      But I don’t think I felt guilty asking, I felt awkward. If I had had guns around my house, I might not have felt funny.

      And I agree. Much better to be safe than sorry.


  27. Cop’s wife here…I applaud you for asking!!! We even had a video we showed our son (and I showed kids at school) about gun safety!! “STOP! Don’t touch! Go tell an Adult!”

    That wasn’t the only thing we’d ask before we let our kid go to a friend’s house, either!! Overprotective??? So what! Our kid can live to tell his own kids how overprotective we were!! Great post!!


    • It was a long time for me. I think the culture is more problematic for parents as time goes by. Now gun folks are more defensive, and non-gun folks are more edgy. So I think it may be getting harder than it was 15 or so years ago.

      And you’re right. There are a lot of questions to ask!


      • When I was growing up…we just went outside to play!! All day!! Home for lunch or supper, maybe!

        My son had a different upbringing, for sure!!

        Keep on asking those hard’re entitled!! It’s our job to raise our kids…not ask them to raise themselves…God give us wisdom! Amen! God Bless!!


  28. Well, you know what they say. If nukes are outlawed, only outlaws will have nukes.


  29. I always ask about guns. I don’t even attempt to be particularly diplomatic. If I get push back, I stay for the play date or it doesn’t happen.


Play nice, please.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s