If a family I don’t know well has invited my 13-year-old kid over to their house and I ask if they have a gun in the home, and they say yes they do and that they keep it safely locked up, then what?
Safe but How Safe
First of all, good for you for asking because it’s obviously a difficult topic to approach, especially with people you don’t know well. The problem with any difficult question, though, is that it may have an equally difficult answer.
I’m guessing that if they said there was no gun in the home, you’d give the go-ahead for a get-together, and if they said there was an unsecured gun, you wouldn’t let you child go into the house. The complications of the in-between answer are a great opportunity for you, as well as your child, to think through your values, your relationships with friends and your feelings about weapons.
For a lot of parents, the answer even to a locked-up gun would be that the anxieties would outweigh the benefits of the social engagement. However, if as a parent you tell your child not to go play at another family’s home, I suggest explaining the reasons. In this case, I would say something straightforward like, “I don’t think it’s safe to be in a house with a gun.” I realize that answer will be unpopular with some people, in which case you can make a different choice.
If, however, you decide that your child should be able to go, I would suggest asking some follow-up questions. Do the kids know where it’s locked up? Do they know how to access it? Have they seen the parents access it? There’s also a significant difference between an afternoon get together and a sleepover, or a supervised get together, and kids being home alone.
You should also ask your child, “Do you feel comfortable going to so and so’s house knowing that their parents have a gun?” I would not ask this question of kids much younger than 13, but your child is a teenager who needs to know how to begin to navigate the world without you and to formulate personal opinions and boundaries around complicated questions. For somewhat younger kids, I would offer the starting point of, “If you ever see a gun, get as far away from it as you can as fast as you can.”
I can think of a million ways in which people are going to find fault with my answer, and that’s OK. As parents, we make innumerable decisions about our kids’ safety, and while each decision isn’t perfect, we have to do our best, given the information we have, to help our children avoid danger and prepare them for how to handle difficult circumstances.