Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

A Mother's Question To Protect Her Kids: Do You Keep Guns?


For many years, commentator Dede Donahue has been thinking about the guns she doesn't see. It's something she didn't think much about until she became a parent. She first wrote about this last spring in The Washington Post - about the question she asks before letting her kids go to another house for a play date. That question - do you keep guns? Before long, it was one of the first things that would come up. It never became easier, but she keeps asking, even now for her young nieces and nephews.

DEDE DONAHUE: I had added it to the litany of things I would tell parents. We have a dog. We have a pool that's fenced. We don't keep guns. It seemed that if a parent trusted me to be concerned about their child's allergies, I could and should ask if they kept guns. My friend Melanie said her husband kept the gun. Her son and my daughter were 4 at the time and had been playing together for over two years. I don't know why it suddenly occurred to me to ask her. Perhaps I was just getting in the habit of asking everyone.

Melanie told me more. Her husband had originally kept the handgun in bedside table, until the day Melanie had walked into the bedroom and discovered 2-and-a-half-year-old Jack with the loaded gun in his lap. After that, her husband moved the gun to a box on a high shelf in their walk-in closet. Six months later, Jack found the gun again. Luckily, Melanie discovered him in time. I was shocked. I looked into her eyes. She had befriended me when I didn't have many mom friends. And I had to say, you know I can't let Chloe come over ever again.

That awkward question - do you keep guns? - ended some friendships before they ever began. It also motivated a couple of old friends to buy gun safes. It was as if the possibility of something bad happening had never occurred to them. Some parents believe that because they told their child not to touch a gun that they won't, but researchers say that simply isn't true. A recent study states 8 in 10 first graders know where their parents hide their guns. And children as young as 3 are strong enough to pull the triggers of many handguns.

When I started asking other parents, I was naive to how divisive a question it was. I wasn't testing the Second Amendment, just trying to keep my kids safe. But since then, in several states, laws have been passed so that a doctor or pediatrician cannot ask that same question, which is why parents must. Nearly 1,500 children die from shootings each year, but no one knows how many of those are kids dying in their own homes or in the homes of friends. No records are kept on that. The numbers are just mixed in with gang killings, suicides and school shootings. But you've read the stories. A 6-year-old shoots his 4-year-old sister. Two children are playing, and one accidentally kills the other. A child finds a gun and shoots himself. I was heartened by President Obama's executive action, particularly with regard to gun safety and technology. I hope, as he does, that soon guns won't be accessible to young children. But until that day comes, I'm still going to ask, do you keep guns?

SHAPIRO: Commentator Dede Donahue is a freelance writer and memoirist who lives in Southern California. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

KUER is listener-supported public radio. Support this work by making a donation today.