I’ve been a mother for more than 23 years now. My first son was born in 1996 (and the youngest of my four sons just turned 11 in July). Ever since my children were small, I have had conditions for playdates [and then later, once my children were Lead-poisoned, my conditions became more numerous – and more strictly-enforced than most, perhaps] and consequently, most of my children’s playdates in the past 13 years have happened at our house. Actually, I really love this paradigm… ours is the house where all the boys gather. While we usually have three or four boys living here (3, more recently – since our eldest is off at college), we almost always (during waking hours) seem to have five or six boys at the house at sometime or another on any given day (often even more!).
Growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, in Hingham, Mass, my family was close friends with the Giarrusso family. With 7 children (Dave, Tom, Mark, Roy, Ronald, Maria, and Julie), Suzanne (Mrs. G., my mom’s best friend) had that house, too! It was the house where there were always people; where parents knew their kids were always “safe”; where there was always something to do (play games, make art projects, play dress up, play with dolls, play with the farm animals (Winnie the Pig, and Vanessa the Goat!), swim, play tag, play “monster” or “hide and seek” in the attic and the basement, go to the playground across the street, playing in piles of leaves on the yard (or going sledding, depending on the weather)…. and at some point Pong came out -– and I remember the novelty of there being 10 or 12 kids all huddled around a TV, watching two of the kids play this new thing called a “video game“)! In the Giarrusso house, kids were encouraged to root around in the fridge or pantry if they got hungry — they were encouraged to make themselves at home. I loved being part of that family as a child and I’ve kind of strived for our home to be that for our community (my sons and their friends and our neighbors and their children) as well, and having an open-door policy (where kids come and go as they please and treat our home like their home) is something I enjoy most about my life here in Portland with my little (nuclear) and larger (chosen) family.
My family doesn’t own any guns; never have, and never will.
So for context on the gun front – we don’t own a gun at the Rubin household – never have, never will. For me (personally) that would take away the “haven” (“always safe for all children”) nature of our home. I also have a very personal reason for my attitude, as a grownup, regarding guns in the house: my grandmother used a gun to kill herself — shot herself in the head — when I was visiting her home in San Francisco, when I was just 15 years old [I actually missed being there at the moment of the shooting by a matter of just minutes!]. So even though I have fired guns (I shot 22s for target practice as kid, when I was an Explorer Scout), as a parent, I am not personally comfortable – especially these days – with the idea of having a gun of any kind in my home. ***And now you know this bit of intel to help you make a decision as to whether or not your kids can come visit at my house, so you don’t have to ask!***
When did you start asking if there were any guns in the house before playdates?
Even before my kids were Lead-poisoned, I would always ask the parents of my eldest son’s prospective playmates if there were “any firearms in the house?” before allowing him to go for a playdate. We lived in Marin County back then (the first six years of my parenting life – 1996 through 2002 – took place in California) — and no one ever seemed to mind when we asked that question. The answer to that question – for every single time it was ever asked – was also always an emphatic “NO!” in Marin. I never once encountered a family with a gun in the house during that time.
And then what happened, in 2002?
Then we moved to Oregon.
Despite what you may have heard about Portland (via Portlandia or other sources!) Oregon truly is the “Wild West” with all that entails!
Shortly after we moved in to our new (to us) Portland home in June of 2002, we went to visit our new our neighbors. As we walked in – after knocking on the door and being invited in, mind you – we were greeted with the following sight: the dad (in his 50s), older son (early 20s) and other members of the family, and some friends, were all sitting around in the living room (the first room you entered as you walked into the house) — and in front of them was a coffee table literally COVERED IN GUNS! I don’t know how many… maybe 15 or 20?! Some were big (shotguns), some were little (handguns) – some were in one piece, some were taken apart for cleaning. Our new neighbors were having a “gun-cleaning party“! They brought out all their guns, and were sitting around the table as they methodically cleaned all of their guns together – while we stood there (nervously) chatting with them about neighborly things. Needless to say, we didn’t stay long (we had an antsy almost-six-year-old kid with us – which was not a good match for a room full of guns)!
I do want to take a moment to add here that we LOVED these neighbors during the short time we knew them. They were so nice, and very welcoming and super-helpful and friendly. They also had guns… it was one of the things they “did”, I guess – and I have since learned that it is actually something a lot of Oregon families do (“recreational shooting” [target practice]; “deer hunting for meat”; etc.) – something I had not ever encountered – nor considered – before moving to this fine State.
As a result of that wake-up call (an alert to change the range of possibilities I could imagine regarding potential hazards in the homes of friends and neighbors), from that point on, I made it a super-important priority to ALWAYS ask any family that my kids wanted to have a playdate with if there were any guns in the house —(something I had not previously thought of as a real and present concern, but merely an academic exercise in parental responsibility.) I did this no matter how uncomfortable the question seemed at the time.
So – aside from the obvious concern – why is it a problem that there are guns in the house? (A “trick question” for those new to my site!)
Initially (1996-2005), I was asking the question “Do you have any guns in the house?” before playdates, because I did not want one of my precious kiddos to get accidentally shot by another small child. [The most fun answer we got to this question since we moved to Portland 17+ years ago was that “No, there are no guns in the house…but we do have a collection of assorted authentic Samurai-style swords — and we keep them under lock and key in a safe”. Oh, Portland!]
Then my children were Lead-poisoned (August 2005), and sometime shortly after that I started learning about the non-obvious impacts of the Lead in bullets – on both animal and human populations – and I reflected back on that day in 2002 when I went to visit my new Oregon neighbors who had guns strewn all over their coffee table (without so much as a table cloth separating the guns from the food surface of the table).
Not only are guns a problem from the perspective of a child potentially getting accidentally shot from an unsecured gun, but – given the activities commonly occurring in households with guns (cleaning of guns, loading of guns, handling and/or making bullets, and more) – there is a HUGE potential in homes with guns for household surfaces (like floors and carpeted areas and coffee tables and kitchen counters) to be contaminated with significant and unsafe levels of Lead dust, as a result of those “normal” gun-related activities. This dust is microscopic (not dust you can see), but due to Lead’s extreme neurotoxicity, can still contain enough Lead particles to significantly poison a child. The amount of Lead dust it takes to poison a child is quite literally invisible to the naked eye in most cases — you can see a representation of that in the trailer to my documentary film below.
Please continue reading below the video.
Among the thousands of people who read my blog and contact me each year with questions, in recent years I have had no fewer than three separate mothers come to me for advice with similar “mystery cases” – when their baby unexpectedly tested positive for (a very high level of) Lead in their blood. Each of these three “mystery” cases had the following three factors in common:
- They lived in a new-construction home,
- They (and the health department inspectors) had not been able to determine the source of their child’s Lead exposure, and
- With some extra digging around and questioning (about hobbies, activities, things the family does in each room of their house on a typical day), it was eventually determined that the dad’s gun activity — primarily loading the gun at the kitchen table (and, in two of the cases, also making Lead bullets at home in the kitchen or the garage) was the likely primary source of Lead exposure to those children.
Yes, apparently making Lead bullets at home in your kitchen (or garage) is still a thing in some parts of the world in 2019, and there are even countless YouTube videos that teach you how to do it! [here’s a Link to one of them, chosen at random!]
As a result, I now ask,”are there any guns in the house?” before any playdate, with this additional concern in mind. If the answer is ever “Yes” (especially for one of my children who is under 15 years old, and who may not fully understand the implications of finding a gun), I invite the children to come have the playdate at our home instead.
Friends online have asked me if I have any follow-up questions for the family in a case like this (a potential playdate where there is a gun in the home.) The answer is “No, I do not”. Once I learn there is a gun in the house, I don’t let my children play there. It is not worth the risk. I understand that others do not have this luxury in their community (because in many places in the U.S., too many of their children’s friends may have guns in the home), in that case, I would – at a minimum – confirm guns are kept secure under lock and key.
What do you do if you suspect Lead paint hazards in a home where your child has been invited for a playdate?
For those who may be wondering… before a playdate with a new friend, I also typically ask if the home was built before 1978 — and if the answer is “Yes” – or if the parent or child does not know (and if I cannot easily find that information for the property online) – I either arrange to be there for that first playdate, so I can look for potential Lead paint hazards myself (and get to know the parents too, which is always a good idea – and usually fun) OR I invite the child to come to our house for the first playdate.
Back to the concern for Lead-dust hazards caused by guns:
For those who may need “evidence” to support the arguments for the concern of Lead dust in homes with guns, I have provided several links (among the many available online today) below that discuss confirmed incidents in which the residue from bullets caused or likely contributed to significant Lead exposure for gun users (both adults and children) and even possibly caused or contributed to acute Lead-poisoning for some of these gun users.
As I said, for me, it’s definitely not worth the risk — and the discomfort of asking the question, “Are there any guns in the house?” to a stranger is trumped by the knowledge of the potential disastrous impacts of guns on children (be it permanent brain damage from Lead exposure (my son’s diagnosis), or injury or death from accidental shooting.)
The takeaway (advice from a woman who has been a mom of boys for more than 23 years!)…
As a parent, please don’t feel guilty, or ashamed, or overly uncomfortable asking if there are guns in the house before confirming a playdate. Your child’s safety and well-being are at stake — and if the other parent doesn’t respect your right to ask that question, you probably don’t want your kid playing at their house anyway!
Thanks for reading and for sharing my posts.
As always, please let me know if you have any questions.
Articles around this subject you may want to read:
- Seattle Times: October 2014
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: April 2017
- NPR: May 2017
- Medical Express: November 2017
- Rutgers: November 2017
- The potential impact on military and police who use guns for a living.
- A slightly different take on the issue of Leaded bullets and the impacts on humans from September 2012
- For context on how much Lead dust it takes to poison a child, read this post.