As the mom of an infant and a toddler, I have been both dreading and dying to hear another parent ask me one question: "Do you have a gun in your house?"
It's a question Ann Marie Crowell of Saugus, Mass., told me she has wished every day for the past 17 years that she had thought to ask. "I said, 'What if, what if, what if ... ?' "
Her 12-year-old son, Brian, was hanging out at an older friend's house nearby on Christmas Eve some years ago. Just before he was to head home, the friend pulled out his mom's gun, presumed hidden well enough away from the teen's curious eyes.
The friend had thought the gun was empty and was playing around pulling the trigger.
On the third click, a shot cut through Brian's neck. That was the moment Crowell's living, breathing son became a cold, lifeless statistic. He became one of the nine kids shot in the U.S. each day in gun accidents.
The last words Brian ever breathed were to his friend: "I can't believe you shot me."
This weekend marks the official start of summer and the return of an awareness campaign, a partnership of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. It's called ASK Day -- as in "asking saves kids."
While the Brady organization generally engages in trying to effect change through policy, this campaign does not dabble in politics. Its purpose is straightforward and nonpartisan. The aim is to encourage parents to add gun safety to their list of questions.
"It's not a political issue, a judgment issue," said Dr. Tanya Altmann, an AAP spokeswoman and mother of two boys, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. "It's a safety issue."
When should you start asking? Altmann said when your child is old enough that you're leaving them at someone's house -- be it a friend, family member or even a babysitter or home-based daycare.
In my three years of being a parent, with a number of kids running through my house, not a single parent has ever asked me about guns. They've asked about peanuts and our big screens.
And I haven't said anything either. As someone who is relatively terrified of guns -- rather, what people can do with them -- I've felt like I've been sitting on this myself.
You see, my home is one of the one in three American homes with children that also house a gun.
I'm sure this will come as a shock to most people who know me. In fact, "gun owner" has never been a category I expected to be in. But marriage means the merging of lives -- and collections of everything, including guns.
To be clear, the weapon at our home is secured in a proper gun safe, with the ammunition stored separately. That is, after all, part of what responsible gun owners should do. But is that enough?
"When you have children in the home, you have a special obligation" to ensure their safety when it comes to a weapon, firearms trainer Dean Gamburd told me in a phone interview. He has taught people ranging from military to civilians about gun use and safety for the past 25 years.
"I don't think gun owners do a good enough job educating their spouses and children about gun safety," he said.
There are four things that weapons experts suggest parents teach kids to do if they come across a gun:
- Don't touch it.
- Leave the area.
- Tell an adult.