How to Have the Pre-Playdate 'Gun Talk' With Other Moms

Whether you're a proud firearm-owning mom or staunchly anti-gun, you can't help but be heartbroken by the news that a 2-year-old in an Idaho Wal-Mart grabbed his mother's gun out of her purse, accidentally pulled the trigger, and killed her. It seems like every day we hear a news reports of an equally tragic shooting. In fact, according to the National Poll on Children's Health, nine children each day are killed by a gun.

That's a statistic that resonates with Missy Carson Smith. In 1986, when she was 13, her 14-year-old brother, Jeffrey, was shot and killed on a playdate in their "safe" suburban neighborhood.

Now a mom of four, Missy has founded an organization, GunSafe Mom, which she hopes will finally "unlock the conversation" of gun safety. Here, in an exclusive with The Stir, she explains her mission and how moms everywhere -- yes, that means you -- can prevent more senseless shootings.

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What led you to start GunSafe Mom?
When my eldest daughter was 5, she was invited to a friend's house for a playdate. We carpooled with this little boy and they loved each other. I knew the mom, they lived down the street from us. In my mind, it was a safe situation. My daughter went over to play and they did have a great time together. But two weeks later, while we were driving to school ... the little boy said, "We have a gun in our house, but I know not to go into that room." I thought, What did I do to my daughter? I was in absolute shock.

What did you do?
I realized how in denial I had been about talking about gun accessibility, even after my brother's tragedy. My husband had guns! They were dusty and never used -- I don't even know why we still had them -- but I had to backtrack and talk to him first. Although our 5-year-old couldn't get to them, a 10-year-old who came over to our house could. So we put them into my father-in-law's safe. Then I went to talk to the other family. It was a very emotional discussion. The mom confessed that she had felt afraid, too, especially at family events, with children climbing upstairs. Her husband expressed some different opinions. He believes more guns make the world safe. But he was also touched that I brought up the topic.

Why do you think it's so tough for moms to talk about gun safety with other parents?
I know moms who shoot and keep guns, but for the most part, I don't think they're gun owners. Because they have a lack of knowledge, they worry, "What do I even say?" But you don't have to know about gun handling and safety to talk about guns. I think moms also feel sheepish bringing it up. They think it will upset other parents. But kids are kids. They get into things. They are not mature enough to make decisions about their safety. We need to do it for them.

More From The Stir: Owning Guns Doesn't Make Me a Bad Mom

So how do you ask a parent if they have guns in their home?
You have to clear the air and have the conversation before you drop your child off for a playdate. You can't have it at the door. Have it beforehand by phone, email, even text.

What do you say?
Start off friendly. "Hey, Angela! Sophie is really excited about the playdate. Anything I can send with her?" Break the ice, then preface other safety issues, like whether or not your child has food allergies or if she's scared of dogs. Then say, "This may sound odd, but it's a safety issue -- do you guys have any guns in your home?"

What if they get defensive?
You can defuse the situation by saying, "I respect your stance and it's not about that. Can you just reassure me of your storage practices?" You can even bring me into it. "I was reading about GunSafe Mom and it made me wonder ..." And the last thing you say is, "Thank you very much." Gratitude is part of GunSafe Mom's mantra. "Okay, so you keep your gun loaded and on your nightstand. I appreciate you letting me know."

So if there is a gun in the house, then what?
Then you say, "That makes me uncomfortable. Would you mind if we had the girls play at our house instead?" Ninety-five percent of the time, your conversation will be positive. You can disagree [with their stance on guns] but it doesn't have to be confrontational. You're asking a safety question and you can ask in a peaceful, diplomatic way. And if someone does get upset, then that's a red flag.

What would your advice be to a mom who is a gun owner?
If you are a gun owner, you can't be offended. This conversation is part of owning a gun ... shootings are not happening in our legislative offices, but in stores and in our homes, and this is where we need to be vigilant. It's heartbreaking to hear about shootings and see what they do to families. They are preventable.

Will you have "the talk" with other moms you know?


Image © iStock.com/DIGIcal

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