When we talk about guns, rarely do we speak with reluctant gun owners, particularly parents who have decided that owning a firearm is safer than not and who struggle with how to discuss gun safety with their kids.
In the wake of the shooting at Marysville-Pilchuck High School, in which a 15-year-old got a gun from a relative, a dozen gun-owning parents told KUOW the lengths they go to keep their firearms from their children.
Monica of West Seattle said she and her husband bought guns for self defense. Their first home, near the Southwest Roxbury Street in West Seattle, had “some sketchy people hanging around,” she said.
When friends in Seattle find out they own guns, Monica said a typical response has been, “That’s such a redneck thing to do. Why would you guys do that? The right to bear arms was this revolutionary thing – it doesn’t apply to today.”
Washington state law doesn’t require that parents keep guns from their kids, nor does the state require trigger locks. Gun control advocates have pushed for gun safety laws, and Washington voters have repeatedly defeated those attempts.
Absent such laws, safety-conscious parents must do their own research. Monica and her husband looked online and settled on a safe with a six-digit keypad code.
But when it came to educating her 3 ½-year-old son, she found scant resources. For stranger danger, she had read her son a book from the Berenstain Bears series, but there wasn’t much about gun safety beyond the National Rifle Association’s Eddie Eagle GunSafe Program.
Not all Washingtonians are so diligent. Monica said she has an in-law who doesn’t lock up his firearms because safes are too pricey – “or maybe because he doesn’t think about those kind of things.”
According to a survey by the state Department of Health, about a third of gun-owning homes in Washington state do not lock up their firearms.
King County promotes Lok-It-Up, a campaign to encourage gun owners to secure their firearms. It recommends trigger locks (starting at $5) or gun safes (which start around $100).
A state handout doesn’t mince words: “Without any exaggeration, the way a gun is stored can make the difference between life and death,” it says.
The handout is equally tough on parents who have a zero tolerance policy even for toy guns.
“As your child’s primary caregiver, you owe it to them to prepare for the chance that they will encounter a gun,” it says. “If you teach them the basics of gun safety, you will be in a better position to help your child if he or she should happen to find a gun and no adult is on scene.”
So why keep firearms at home?
One dad wrote us that he bought a gun because he lives in a rural area and first responders are half an hour away. It is a “handgun, and it is for killing people,” he said. He keeps it locked in a safe with a seven-number combination.
“To make it clear, I hate the NRA,” he said. “I believe in major gun control. I do think that guns kill people.”
Another mom said a neighbor made her so nervous that she bought a handgun. She keeps it in a safe in her closet. Her elementary school-aged son does not know about the gun.
In addition to gun owners, we heard from parents who asked how to tactfully ask other parents whether they have guns in the home.
Monica said they should be direct.
“Being straightforward is fine,” Monica said. “I disclose if my kids have a cold – ‘Are you sure you want to expose your kid to having a snotty nose and a cough?’”
If the parent is uncomfortable with firearms in the house, Monica said she understands and in fact, “firearms in my own house with my small children make me nervous as well.” She said that any hesitation is reason not to come over and they can meet up at a different spot.
This story was published originally on Nov. 4, 2014. Editor's note: KUOW is publishing first names only of the parents interviewed in this story to respect their concerns for security.