Of guns and granddaughters
I’ve written about this before but it’s important enough for me to reiterate this point. I wish the gun debate could move beyond “let’s ban assault rifles” vs. “I have a right to bear arms.” There are so many other areas of gun safety we can all agree on if we dropped the posturing for a minute.
Let’s face facts: spree shootings are rare. But there’s a good chance your child or grandchild will play in a friend’s house whose parents own firearms. Are those parents responsible? Do they have those weapons secured? And what happens when a child from a home with an irresponsible owner finds and takes a weapon to school?
Four years ago, after having written several newspaper columns on gun safety, I felt it was important to have an updated conversation with my then 12-year-old granddaughter Lauryn, who was a frequent visitor to my home. I’d told her not to touch a gun if she ever came across one, but those remarks were always in passing. Lauryn’s father was in Iraq, so during that time, her mom was a single parent with her and her younger brother. So, when I wasn’t busy goofing off with my grandkids, I felt the need to step in and give her advice and direction from a male perspective.
I sat her down and we talked about guns. I told her that if she were ever to see a gun, come across a gun or see someone with a gun, the first thing to do was stop what she was doing and do not touch the gun. Don’t touch it. Then I told her she should leave the area. Finally, she should immediately tell an adult.
I told Lauryn about a recent tragic incident in a neighboring community where an 8 year old boy shot and killed his two year old sister after finding one of his parent’s handguns. The parents were home at the time. Police found six unsecured guns in the house and the parents were arrested and prosecuted. I wanted her to understand the seriousness of the subject and see how life could change in an instant with a gun in the wrong hands.
We talked about what to do if she saw a classmate with a gun. Again, I told her to immediately go tell a teacher. I repeated this because I knew how she felt about snitching. She once told me “Snitches get stitches.” I told her that this was too important to keep quiet about.
I thought we had a productive conversation.
Less than 24 hours after the discussion I had with Lauryn on gun safety, I was horrified when Lauryn came home from school and told me, “A boy brought a gun to school today. He showed it to me in 2nd period.”
Have you ever felt like your heart was going to beat right out of your chest? My whole body went numb.
Without missing a beat she went on to tell me how she was crying in 4th period because the kid got busted with the gun and all of her friends thought she’d snitched.
“You didn’t tell?” I asked, incredulous.
“No. Well, I was going to tell someone at lunch but he got caught with it before I could.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It was like some sick cosmic joke. I’d had a discussion with her on guns less than 24 hours earlier and she was shown a gun in school the very next day! Yet, she didn’t do anything. In fact, what she was worried about was that her friends thought she’d turned the boy in! In reality, the boy had pulled the gun on a rival in a dispute over a girl and had gotten caught by a teacher.
What were the odds of this happening?
To be honest, I wanted to throttle her. If I could not get through to her on a matter of life and death, then what of all of the other topics we’d discussed? What was the use of talks on sex, drugs, grades, self-respect and tolerance if matters of life and death didn’t register?
I’d run straight up against the power of peer pressure and lost. It left me reeling.
But we continued on. I tried to impress upon her the seriousness of the situation. We had further discussions about guns and safety. We talked about “snitching” and I told her that I understood the pressure not to tell. But we also talked about what if that boy had fired that gun and hurt or killed someone after Lauryn knew he had it and said nothing. She told me she would’ve felt terribly guilty. Safety trumps “snitching.”
I educated her about Columbine, which she’d never heard of. We looked at graphic photos and video from school shootings.
We need to be having conversations about guns with our kids and as I learned, it can’t be a one-time conversation. But most parents aren’t even having these conversations.
We’ve got to broaden the gun discussion to true gun safety. We’ve got to make sure gun owners are securing their weapons so kids don’t get hold of them and tragic accidents happen. Gun owners have to be responsible so kids don’t take firearms to school. And kids have to be conditioned to immediately turn in someone with a gun. Immediately.
The “stop, don’t touch, leave and tell an adult” rules were part of an NRA sponsored gun safety program. While NRA Executive Vice-President Wayne LaPierre may be an idiot, these rules are important. A responsible gun owner teaches their children to respect guns. But many kids never hear about guns because it doesn’t cross their parents’ mind. We don’t think about firearms that may be improperly stored at a friend’s house or another child showing our child a gun he/she found.
These are far more likely ways your child will encounter a gun than a deranged school shooter with an AR-15.
Kids are incredibly curious and there’s tremendous peer pressure to not tell, as my experience showed. But we’ve got to have these conversations. And we’ve got to have them repeatedly and at very young ages. Gun safety in a nation of nearly 300 million firearms is a must that everyone on all sides of the gun issue should be able to agree on.