I’m not, now, quite sure how that happened. It’s the kind of blind spot that (as is the nature of blind spots) we didn’t at all realize was there. Until we did. And then it became so huge, so glaring, so DAMN OBVIOUS that we have absolutely no idea how it happened.
As parents and foreigners, we have definitely talked with our friends about how strange and chilling it is to have to ask other parents if they have a gun in the house before playdates. Our neighbourhood friends have been surprised, and we’ve all commiserated on how terrible it is that this is something that anyone has to think about. They’ve been surprised that it might really be the case that parents at our kids’ private Jewish school would actually own guns. Us too, we nodded vigorously. Us too.
And yet. And yet. Somehow, we never quite got around to asking any of the new people that we met if they had guns. I think (if I can lay claim to thinking at all about this, which…remains in doubt at this point) I assumed that I would be able to identify any potential gun owners by some sort of magic voodoo sixth sense political affinity kabbalah wizardry. What nonsense. What naïve, self-righteous, unaware, provincial, smug nonsense.
Lots and lots and lots of Americans own guns. I knew this. I know this. I read about it (especially lately.) Guns are *everywhere.* They are easy to get, and people get them. The thing is that amongst the lots and lots of people who own guns, who do take advantage of the unbelievably easy process to procure them (and the numerous gun show loopholes for those who can’t) are people that I know. People that I have at my Shabbat table. People who host sleepovers for my children.
That should have been obvious. Even to a Canadian who maybe once met a hunter with a rifle, and a Brit who was raised on a culture where even the police don’t have guns, we should not have assumed that gun owners are “those people.” Gun owners are, it turns out, our people.
We were at a very good friend’s house with our kids. Guns came up. She pointed out—totally rightly, 100% correctly—that no matter what we imagine about what our friends think and believe, there is no excuse for not teaching our children what to do if they see a gun. (For the record: RUN AWAY. FIND A GROWNUP. DO. NOT. TOUCH. IT. EVER.) She knows. She has a gun.
It’s locked up. Totally secure. She hasn’t ever taken it out of the safe.
She has a gun.
Other friends may also have guns. They may not have taken shooting lessons. They may not have put their guns away and never taken them out again.
Their guns may not be secure.
We’d smugly, self-righteously, naively assumed that we would never enter a house with guns, and nor would our kids. We figured we’d somehow know (through the ether?) that we were in the presence of a gun owner, and we’d have the (admittedly deeply awkward, possibly terrifying, but necessarily responsible) conversation with the owner (whom we’d identify by our second sight) and then steer the playdate to our house.
And then, maybe, teach our children what to do if they ever saw a gun.
Wow did we get the order wrong. And wow did we get our own assumptions wrong. Because it’s not one random and anomalous gun owner amongst our friends and our kids’ friends. It’s people we know and people we love and people we agree with about all sorts of things. It’s people whose houses we go to all the time. It’s people whose houses we want to keep going to.
So we need to ask everyone if they have guns. And then we need to ask if it is secured. And then we need to ask how. Awkward. Uncomfortable. Difficult.
We’ve talked to our kids about what to do if someone touches them inappropriately. Of course. We’ve had that conversation so many times. They have it whenever they go to the doctor. They have it in school. We reinforce it regularly. We’ve talked to our kids about road safety, and avoiding household poisons, and being careful around fire. We give them plenty of independence and space to roam and fall and hurt themselves, and we’ve given them the tools to make good and safe decisions while they roam and fall.
And somehow, we’ve never talked to them about what to do if they ever saw a gun.
We just didn’t see that we should. Until it was right in front of us.
It’s time to have The Gun Conversation. With our friends, and with our kids. It’s long past the time.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Lilith Magazine.