Maria Stuart

Maria Stuart
Howell, Michigan, USA
February 17
Maria Stuart is an award-winning journalist and freelance writer. She lives in Michigan with her husband, their teenage son, and Ted, the hyper labradoodle who keeps her from sitting at the computer too long. You can check out her website at or Follow @mariastuart on Twitter.


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JANUARY 14, 2011 7:52AM

So many guns around town …

Rate: 33 Flag
bogey“Are you going to ask if they have weapons in the house?”

My 11-year-old son was invited to the most important social event for sixth graders, a sleepover birthday party, and instead of being thrilled his mother is concerned about his safety, he is, instead, embarrassed.

Too bad for him.

As I do when my son gets invited to the homes of classmates whose parents I don’t know, I touch base before the event, I Google their names, I go into the house for a little look-see when I drop him off, and I ask about weapons.

“Do you own guns,” I will ask.

So far, none of them say they do, but if they did, I’d ask to see how they’re secured.

Maybe I am a little over-protective; he is, after all, my only child. And maybe, after all my years at the local newspaper, I’ve written and edited enough accidental shooting stories to make me perpetually nervous about how easily gun tragedies occur.

One of the worst happened years ago, when a local boy was spending the night at his friend’s house. What began as a routine sleepover ended senselessly when one boy came across a gun thought by its owner to be safely put away in a drawer.

I really don’t need to tell you what happened. You know how this story ends, which is precisely my point — lives were irrevocably shredded in a second. One young life lost, another carrying the scars for the rest of his; two families forever changed.

What purpose did that gun serve? Did the pleasure of target shooting or the imagined safety of its ownership equal the loss of a young, innocent life?

Gun advocates cling to the “it’s people who shoot people, not guns” mantra, and while it’s technically true, the number of accidental deaths by gun far, far outweigh accidental stabbings or stranglings. Those kinds of accidental deaths don’t just happen because someone forgot to lock up the carving knife or put the silk scarf into the drawer.

Then there are the not-so-accidental shootings, like in Tucson, during which 18 people were shot, six fatally, when an apparently mentally ill, heavily armed young man opened fire on a crowd of people excited to meet the killer’s target, U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

“Why did he shoot that little girl,” my kid asked.

The shootings affected him, but he was particularly distressed about the death of 9-year-old Christina Taylor-Green, in part, I think, because he saw himself in her.

“She was there,” I said, realizing that I couldn’t think of anything else to say.

He nodded as I worried that my short answer fell both flat and nowhere near its mark.

“I guess we just have to be careful,” he said.

If only that were true. If being careful would keep us from the grips of violence, well, what a wonderful world it would be.

The only truth in all of this is that sometimes violence is random, unpredictable, and if we are always on alert for it, we’ll go mad.

But even with the randomness of some gun violence, there are things we do to nudge all of it along by making gun ownership so easy. That folks can walk into their local Wal-Mart or gun show and leave with a weapon is frightening because it should be hard to get a gun. It’s more difficult to get a driver’s license or a credit card, for crissakes.

Now, Sarah Palin didn’t shoot all those people in Tucson. Neither did mental illness or violent rhetoric. It was, pure and simple, a gun — a very powerful, legally purchased gun with an awful lot of legally purchased ammunition — in the most dangerous of hands. This begs one of the biggest questions facing us as a society, as a community: How do we balance our personal desire for protection, our personal right to bear arms, with everyone else’s right to life?

I heard a statistic that made me choke – for every 100 people in the U.S., there are 90 guns. It’s from a Reuters story about the Small Arms Survey 2007 by the Geneva-based Graduate Institute of International Studies, which crowned the United States the most heavily armed society in the world. The numbers in the story extrapolate to over 270 million firearms floating around the U.S., a country of 308 million people. Those numbers are pre-President Obama, so they don’t include the reported post-2008 election run on guns and ammo.

As Philip Marlowe said in “The Big Sleep”: “My, my, my, such a lot of guns around town and so few brains.”

If something good comes from this latest gun massacre, it would be that we re-examine the ease with which we put deadly firepower into people’s hands.

Until then, I will continue quizzing people about the weapons they own when I drop my kid off to spend time at their home.

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Excellent post! You should quiz people about their weapons because Philip Marlowe was absolutely right.
I think I would have considered it an odd question... I hope I would have understood, but without knowing you, I'm not certain how I would take the inquiry. (the answer would be yes... then where the conversation would have gone would be a mystery, would you have wanted to come in and see where I stored the gun, and the ammo, and etc.?) I understand your need to ask, and support your right to ask it. I would also wonder a little about why you wouldn't gun proof your child so that he'd call you immediately if he spotted a weapon in a friends house (which you may have already). I did have an acquaintance who asked every mother in every house where she dropped off her child whether there was artificial juice, pop, or nuts in the house... another story for another day.
Thank you for this. I wish I thought such clear, smart logic would go somewhere.
Is there free speech, freedom from religion, etc in your house.
I don't know if I would allow my child in your house.
Those things are used so totally irresponsibly that, they lead to violence, harm, death ,etc.
Hopw irresponsibly of you.
Also, how 100% judgemental of you to use the unprovemn premise that all gun owners are viloent, irresponsible and careles about their guns.
I am one of millions who own guns in MY America and, I am neither a gun nut, violent or irresponsibly careless about my LEGALLY OWNED guns.
MY guns are NEVER in plain sight, let alone accessible by anyone who has no business around them.
I am so happy that you would not ever want to visit my comfortable and safe American home.
When I was 9 years old, my 15 year old brother shot me in the accident. The bullet didn't penetrate the skull. I bled like crazy, but otherwise was okay. I lost an incredible amount of blood and am still missing a large chunk of hair. I have one heck of a scar, and it isn't small....perhaps about 4 inches long and about a half inch wide.

I know what it is like to see a gun go off, right in front of my eyes, about 8 feet away. I know what the blue flash looks like and the numbness and comfusion immediately afterwards. I don't remember grabbing the wound site, right hand under the other one....

I think it is a good idea to ask other parents before your child goes to another's house if they have guns, and if they do, see how they are secured....very good thing to do as a parent.

I still do not advocate the disarming of America, despite my experience.

All the media taunts about is how gun accidents are terrible, then the pundints get on TV and talk about the terrible statistics...and the statistics are not nice.

Hardly anyone gets on TV and talks about how many lives are saved by being armed in your own home....of course the pundits do not do this...because it doesn't make good news....good news is about people dying and not so much about people being saved!

I do not own any gun. It's not a choice for ME.

Often I think about the violence caused by automobiles in this country...perhaps we should outlaw all automobiles....that would save a lot of children, a lot of lives.

I will often glance at the vehicle my daughter gets into with a friend or a friends family...does it have worn tires, what is the weather like?

My older brother was killed in an auto accident when he was 19 years old.

Yep, I am crazy person!
I worked in the medical field for fifteen years and saw twelve cases involving firearms. None of these cases was someone protecting themselves. These were people who made a mistake, unfortunately, with a gun. Three of these cases were children one was left paralysis the other children died. In 2007 the US had 31,224 gun deaths this is not a statistic this is a body count.
I always asked, just as you do. He hates it. As you say, "too bad." I honestly don't understand why anyone needs a gun unless they are hunting for food, but as long as everybody and their uncle gets to own one, we need to do our level, non-hysterical, pragmatic best to prevent them from destroying lives.
@Gabby Abby - I like your response. You do realize we're going to be booted off OS. Oh, well, it was fun while it lasted.
Absolutely, ask. Excellent post.~r
Great, great, great! xox
Maria, this makes perfect sense and people who I would categorize as "responsible gun owners" (not an oxymoron) would welcome a question, and this is a big "and", they would ensure that any weapons would be securely stored out of the reach before the gathering.

Someone day your son will thank you...but it will be in the next decade when he does.
Such a wise mother you are. I don't Google folks my kids spend time with, but I have asked the gun question, as well as the older siblings at home many times. Great post, and much manna for thought.
Excellent post. For those who want to take guns out of the equation of gun deaths, accidental or deliberate, here are some facts:
Every time a gun injures or kills in self-defense, it is used:
* 11 times for completed and attempted suicides
* 7 times in criminal assaults and homicides, and
* 4 times in unintentional shooting deaths or injuries.

Regarding gun deaths: An estimated 41% of gun-related homicides and 94% of gun-related suicides would not occur under the same circumstances had no guns been present.

Include the fact that the risk of homicide is three times higher in homes with firearms. States with the highest levels of gun ownership have 114 percent higher firearm homicide rates and 60 percent higher homicide rates than states with the lowest gun ownership.

You are being an excellent parent. Hopefully your child will understand your concern and learn to ask these questions himself.
Maria, I think that asking about guns is excellent. There is a health initiative in local schools that asks parents to lock up their prescription medication too. Apparently, there is a trend among teenagers to steal prescription drugs. At a party, the drugs are shared and ingested for whatever 'high' it can produce. Needless to say what a health risk this presents.
I think there is nothing wrong with asking of any potential dangers to children in the house including guns, prescription drugs, chemicals, porn, etc. Truth is most gun accidents happen with people who do not store their weapons properly and when children and even adults who have never been around guns and do not understand how guns work and gun safety.

When our children were younger we had guns and taught gun safety, but they did not have access until they were adults. The guns and ammo were locked up in separate place and when children or any company were over we locked the rooms with guns as well. Better safe than sorry.
I'm so with you. If we have to prove we have the maturity to drive on public roads without being a danger to everyone else, why aren't the requirements for owning and using a gun at least that stringent? If we break the law badly enough and often enough, we stand to lose our driver's licence.

I'm so tired of the argument "Why weren't the victims armed?" that keeps seeming to surface after tragedies like Columbine or Virginia Tech. Gee...maybe because they simply wanted to go about their busines without causing harm to other people? Maybe because nobody should need a gun to walk around on a school campus? More guns will only lead to more tragedies.
Great quote from Marlowe. And I don't blame you a bit about asking that question. So far, the only people Jacob has slept-over with are parents we know really, really well. So I haven't worried about it. But I will - when we get to that point. If the other parents can't take the precautions we do - guns behind lock and key, with key never left within child's reach - then maybe he doesn't need to sleep over there!
This is an intriguing question to ask, but here are some interesting statistics taken from the CDC website:

There were 2,693 accidental (unintentional) deaths caused by a firearm between 2004 and 2007, which included 522 people below 18 years of age. If we include suicides, the values shoot up to 67,987 and 2,223, respectively. Although the risk (accidental deaths only) is relatively small compared to other risk factors (motor vehicle, etc.), the US government was up-in-arms with a few deaths caused by over-the-counter cough medicine for children below the age of 6 a few years ago. Consequently, it asked pharmaceutical companies to stop selling of OTC medicine for this age group two years ago, if I remember correctly (BTW, there were 22 deaths caused by adverse drug effects for children below 6 for the same time period). Injury prevention seems to be focused on the wrong target.

Source and relevant information:
The gun statistics cited in this threat are almost all wrong.

There are more firearms in the United States than there are people, and that has been the case for many years.

Statistics on the use of firearms in self-defenses are deeply skewed because the vast majority of these incidents are never reported, because the firearm was never fired.

I have personally been in three such incidents in my life, where the mere presence of a handgun prevented or aborted a crime in progress.

All of this is besides the point.

The point is government repression.

Without a second thought, I will agree that many gun advocates are nuts. Personally, I see no need for civilians to have automatic weapons....but there's a deep difference between automatic weapons and semi-automatic weapons, a distinction that is repeatedly blurred by both media and firearms control advocates.

On the other hand, we live in repressive times, and they are getting worse. I used to own a lot of guns. At one time, guns played a major role in my life. These days, I don't even look at my firearms for months at a time.

But I know they are there.

The problem with repression is that, once it begins, it never stops.

Firearms are like the canary in the coal mine. If the American people are disarmed in an ill-advised search personal security, we will have neither personal security nor freedom.

I am alive right now because, on three different occasi0ons, I was able to short-circut a violent act simply by displaying a firearm, and I am devoutly grateful that I never had to fire on another person.

I think, however, that you should be commended for making sure that the homes your son visits practice strong firearms safety routines.
I applaud your efforts to exercise your maternal responsibilities in any way you see fit and proper.

After that I would echo the comment of Sagemerlin including having had the experience of needing to use one to stop 3 drunks from furthering their threat to assault my wife on a camping trip. I did not fire it, but they had no doubt that I would if they approached any closer than the twenty five foot gap that remained.
I might consider this question intrusive for security reasons as well - I don't know you, your family, or the company you keep, so why would I want to let you know whether or not I am prepared to defend myself?

Any mother's worry over her child's safety is understandable, but if you really want to know the likelihood of such a tragic incident befalling any child, it might help to look at Centers for Disease Control Statistics. Surprisingly, "firearm homicide" is listed as the second leading cause of unintentional injury death in 2007 for kids 10-14 years. There is also a category labeled "unintentional firearm" which ranks in the top ten for kids in this and a younger age group. It isn't clear to me what the latter category covers, except that firearms are involved. The statistics seem frightening until you look at the number of children affected - in 2007, exactly 200, total. That's 200 out of roughly 55 million children in these age groups recorded in the census for the same year , a percentage that is so small I'd think most mothers are better off worrying about the other parents' driving records before allowing their children to ride with them. Also noteworthy in these statistics is that firearms do not make the list of top ten causes of accidental injury that does not result in death. The actual numbers in this category are also exceedingly low.

This does not mean that any number of child injuries or deaths for any reason is not something to be concerned about, but it does mean that our focus on this particular crisis should not obscure other issues regarding child health, safety, and social development.
As always, you got right to the heart of the matter. Well written. ~ R
I'd also ask if they had ammo. It's a crazy time and I think appropriate caution is wise.
@ Matt, we'll both be in good company.
Perhaps Julie Hersey would like to volunteer to meet the parents of the children who were accidently killed by a firearm and state, given the fact that the statistics are so small, this kind of death is not a societal problem. What’s the problem with one more child killed by a firearm? Perhaps those are not preventable deaths. Would the risk be the same if the kid(s) was (were) playing with his or her (their) bare hands? You would be surprised the reception you would get from the parents of a child who has been accidently shot to death if you would try making your point using the statistics you and I discussed above. I could discuss in greater length the actual and relative risks related to children accidental deaths and firearms, but I’ll leave that for another day.

Since we’re into the realms of statistics, here are other interesting pieces of information (taken from a comment I made last year on a different post):

In England, which has a very strict gun control regulation, the risk of being killed when a crime is committed is 1/900 (mainly from a knife), while in the US it is equal to about 1/90, a ten-fold increase.

We can already imagine how many children were killed in firearm accidents in England.
I interviewed 104 men, women and teens from 29 states for my book on American women and guns. In it, I advised readers they ask this same question. For a few reasons, some already said here:

1) If your child has never had exposure to a gun, he (and especially if the child is male), they are highly likely to be very curious and want to see it or handle it. Inherently dangerous and possibly lethal if they do not have any idea (and how would they?) if the gun is loaded and, if so, how to unload it. Or, better yet, to not touch it at all.

2) Paxton Quigley, an author of Armed and Female, is adamant that any home with a teenage boy in it should not also have any ready access to firearms and ammunition. The death rates are highest for teen boys by homicide and suicide.

3) It is not an insult to ask this question when 30 percent of American homes contain a gun, perhaps several. Only through education, and safety training, do we learn how to handle guns safely -- and many kids can do so. But only with education.

4) The demonization of guns or gun-owners can aggravate this very curiosity in a visiting child. They've only seen guns on TV or movies or in videos. They have NO idea how noisy and lethal a gun can be. Better they never find out by accident.
You ask a good question. I have always owned guns, kept them in a safe when not in use, taught shooting and gun safety, and have always been careful with them. Nevertheless, I have had a couple of near incidents created by others not practicing the same safety rules I did. For example an acquaintance borrowed one of my guns on a hunting trip. I was cleaning it that evening and discovered a round in the barrel. I had carried the gun in the car and into the house and disassembled the gun without knowing the gun was loaded. I would NEVER hand someone a gun without first making sure that it was unloaded.
You can't take anything for granted with gun owners. Some are clueless. Some are incapable of learning.
Also, you should just feel comfortable asking and have every right to ask. Your daughters safety is at stake.
I do wonder, though, if the parent said yes would you know the questions to ask? What if they said they kept a gun loaded but out of reach of a child?
Entirely reasonable. We have guns (my husband shoots at targets at a gun club on weekends), they're locked in a safe. I've never had a parent ask about them, but I'd be happy to show them the safe if they ever wanted to see it (behind the piles of junk in my husband's closet). And yes, there is nothing on this earth more inquisitive than a boy, and nothing more fascinating than guns or things that explode. A dangerous combination.
I never thought of asking about guns before, but it is a good question. Some friends of mine had a neighbor who accidentally discharged a gun - through the wall, into their daughter's bedroom. Thankfully, she was safe. But these things do happen.
Actually, Kanuk, I don't think I'd be surprised at all by the reaction of parents who have lost a child to gun violence, because I've been there and done that in my (former) line of work. Anyone who has been personally affected by such a tragedy is likely to offer me a very passionate reaction.

However, Maria Stuart has invited us to comment on her personal approach to ensuring her child's safety, and that is exactly what I have commented on, my position being that since her method could conceivably cause social isolation for her child as well as offend other parents, perhaps it makes sense to evaluate the actual risks her child is facing when entering another home. No doubt there is a political discussion going on here as well, but I think Maria has her child's best interest at heart.

I will also stand by my answer that the questions she poses to parents in many cases could be met with suspicion. My first inclination would be to wonder, "Is she prying because she wants to stake out my place? Is she trying to assess the level of security here? Does she know someone who might be interested in stealing the guns?" We should all know that most guns used to commit crimes are illegally acquired, whether by theft or other means. (I might also question whether her inquiry is not just a tad confrontive, or at least a little condescending, but I'd probably overlook that part).

It is unfair, Kanuk, for you to suggest that I would dismiss one more life taken by gun violence; that is an accusation of extreme callousness that I do not deserve. If you read my post again you will see that I state very specifically that there is cause for concern and that firearm related deaths are a crisis. I do dispute the pervasive nature of this crisis for the age group in question, nonetheless, and would like to relate this issue to the political message running through this thread. For years conservative America has been accused of legislating on all sorts of "faiths" and passions - Christian doctrine, the value of Neo-economics, the right of military might, and others that have often not been supported by available data or empirical evidence. Passion can tell us that all kinds of beliefs are valid, but often these positions are based only on personal experience. If we (as a country) expect to move forward with any lasting social and economic reform, we ALL have an obligation to re-examine our passions and make sure they are grounded in reality.

Gun control is a highly volatile issue on both sides, but in spite of my identification with the left, I would never advocate setting the dangerous precedent of re-interpreting the Constitution to suit either side. It may or may not have been an unfortunate decision on the part of the founding fathers to grant us this inalienable right, but since the Supreme Court has struck down "across the board" laws that curtail gun ownership, it's time to assure the safety of our citizens by strict enforcement of regulations (many of which already exist) that do not target law-abiding gun owners.
I'm with you, no matter how embarrassing it may be for your son. I've brought my children up in the UK where the ownership of guns isn't an issue but I always thought that if we were back in the States I would do as you are doing and find out about guns in the houses where they would be playing. No matter what your views on gun ownership are, too many are found by children with disastrous results.
"What purpose did that gun serve? Did the pleasure of target shooting or the imagined safety of its ownership equal the loss of a young, innocent life?"

Why is it imagined safety?
@Julie Hershey - Thanks for weighing in here with calm, intelligent reasoning on an issue that seems to propel many here into a state of near hysteria. For those unfamiliar with Julie - as was I - she joined OS a year ago and posted a clever and amusing little poem for Valentine's Day. It garnered one comment and no ratings. She hasn't posted anything since. Unless you've designated Julie persona non grata now for her views on firearms issues, you can read this delightful poem here: Getting to know you
Good for you.

As for social isolation, a) that's hardly on par with being shot, and b) I cannot count the number of nights my house was filled with children whose houses my children were not allowed to visit. Many of those kids still stop by when they're in town, even when our own children aren't. For those who think this question is too intrusive and parents should simply trust other parents to safeguard their children ... if trust comes so easily to you, I'm sure you won't mind sharing your computer passwords on OS.
I'm with you, and I plan on asking the same question when my son starts going to houses without me (he's only two now). Unfortunately, I live in a rural area with a lot of hunters around (not the best place for a vegetarian who hates guns, I'll admit), so I imagine this will cause some embarrassment for him. I'm already worried that he'll rebel in some way and become an avid hunter.

I reread your comment and I still read it the same way I initially did. Sorry… You first indicate that if asked such question from a parent, the first thought that would come up in your mind is to question the right to protect yourself (I’ll leave this topic aside, as I could write an entire post on this), with perhaps an ulterior motive of breaking into your house (in your second comment). I don’t know about you, but I usually don’t initially assume that the parents of my son’s friends or neighbors intent to do me and my family harm, even if they would ask a question about gun ownership. Perhaps where I live (where all the houses are monitored by a burglary alarm) or the group of friends we have has something to do with it. If it was a stranger, maybe I would be more apprehensive if asked such question.

Then, you go on and discuss statistics from the CDC based on the links I provided above. You are initially very surprised to learn that firearm accidental deaths are ranked very high among all unintentional deaths for children and teenagers. However, you quickly dismiss or lower the meaning of this figure by stating that only 200 deaths occurred in 2007, a marginal risk given the fact that there are 55 million children in the US. It is indeed a relatively low number, but if you think that any person who dies prematurely costs the society about $4M (probably more for children), people may have a different perspective (making abstraction that those are human beings). What’s puzzling is that the society has recently invested about $100 million dollars for a highway project solely aimed at preventing about 2 or 3 annual deaths per year (for the next 25 to 30 years). Given the societal costs, this project is still considered cost effective. If we, as a society, agreed to invest that much money to prevent less than 3 annual deaths, this means that preventing 200 more should theoretically even more important. This is unfortunately not the case for firearm accidental deaths and for health care for that matter.

I see the issue described in this post the same manner I see it for pool safety. The number of deaths per year attributed to drowning in home-owned backyard pools is slightly higher than those of attributed to accidental firearm deaths. As you indicated, using the 55 million children as a ratio, it is a drop in the water (on the surface that is). Yet, I’m sure many parents would be asking pool owners whether or not the pool is fenced or the person who is supervising the children is trained in CPR in case an ever accident happens. I know I would ask these questions. How many people would be offended or taken aback, if asked such questions? Would you? Despite the ‘low number’ of drawing deaths, the society (both governmental and private entities in this case) spends an awful amount of money to prevent these few deaths. This suggests that for most people this low number is important enough to do something about it (drowning deaths).

One last thought: In 30 years I lived in up north, I have never encountered anyone, being friends, family members, acquaintances or work colleagues who had a relative murdered by their spouse using a firearm (or let-alone killed by any means). Since I moved here about 10 years ago, I have met (most are my friends) at least three or four people who lost a relative or close friend at the hand of a spouse or boyfriend. In two cases, the spouse killed himself after shooting his partner (all the shooters were men). One actually killed his wife and then himself right in front of his children (
It looks like the comment was cut near the end:

One last thought: In 30 years I lived in up north, I have never encountered anyone, being friends, family members, acquaintances or work colleagues who had a relative murdered by their spouse using a firearm (or let-alone killed by any means). Since I moved here about 10 years ago, I have met (most are my friends) at least three or four people who lost a relative or close friend at the hand of a spouse or boyfriend. In two cases, the spouse killed himself after shooting his partner (all the shooters were men). One actually killed his wife and then himself right in front of his children (
Third try (changed "the less than" sign):

One last thought: In 30 years I lived in up north, I have never encountered anyone, being friends, family members, acquaintances or work colleagues who had a relative murdered by their spouse using a firearm (or let-alone killed by any means). Since I moved here about 10 years ago, I have met (most are my friends) at least three or four people who lost a relative or close friend at the hand of a spouse or boyfriend. In two cases, the spouse killed himself after shooting his partner (all the shooters were men). One actually killed his wife and then himself right in front of his children (less than 8 years old). He fortunately did not kill the children, although they both are scared for life after seeing such carnage with their own eyes.

As opposed to what Matt is claiming, I do not wish that you or other OS members leave this website. Some people seem to have a different definition about the meaning of the words calm and hysteria.
Damned typos: “an ever accident happens” should be “an accident ever happens” and “drawing deaths” should be “drowning deaths” above.
Good post. I think it is odd that people think your question is odd. Very few people own guns in Canada -- in fact, apart from the farmers of my childhood -- I have never met one person in many decades who kept guns at home, and I've known a lot of people. It is a very American thing, and it is having a devastating effect.
Kanuk, it looks as if we may have to agree to respectfully disagree but I do wonder still why you would refer to the statistics at all if you feel, as many (most) do here that no amount of risk, even if extremely small, is acceptable. As an aside, also, I did my own checking of the CDC website before I had even read your first post, so did not use the numbers you quoted - not that it's pirating or anything, but I do verify my own info. Glad to see you've used a credible source of data.

About those statistics - they do count for something, and that something can be different depending upon who is using the information, i.e. a public health worker uses the data to focus on changes in cancer rates year to year, while the internist reassures his patient that his symptoms are highly unlikely to be cancer. A social worker's focus might be to help reduce an even statistically small number of gun mishaps for a given population (not just one child), but most mothers should feel comfortable allowing their children to attend overnights and out of class activities with other parents in charge. Properly compiled and computed, statistics have a lot of value, otherwise, there would be no point at all to the money and effort spent on research.

It's puzzling to me that the author quotes a few statistics that serve as the exclamation point to her article, yet completely ignores the same laws of probability when deciding which homes her son can visit. She may call herself an overly protective mother, but if she isn't also asking about lead paint, loose treads on the stairs, internet supervision, lawn darts, girly magazines, the swimming pool you mentioned, alcohol, prescription meds and how they are stored, common fire hazards, CO2 detectors, security system, the cute little pit bull - geeze, I could be here all night coming up with potential and not infrequent dangers to kids - if she isn't also asking about these, she may be lulled into a false sense of security simply by being satisfied that she has made her point and that there are no guns in the house.
Thank you for your support, Matt Paust. :) I'm glad to see from yours and a couple other responses here that I'm not completely alone in my opinion.
Thanks, everyone, for reading and commenting and creating such an interesting thread.

I live in one of the largest school districts in Michigan, one that covers a lot of rural ground. I live smack dab in the middle of the county seat, in an area with sidewalks and neighbors close by. I know most of my neighbors, but there are kids in remote areas my son knows from class, some who ride the bus over an hour to get to school, and I usually don't know their parents at all.

I make it my business to get to know them.

When I drive up, I can see whether a home has a pool. I know when I ring the doorbell whether there is a dog present. Stepping into someone's home gives me a primer on what they're about, and I glean a lot of information that way.

What I can't easily learn for myself is whether they own guns and whether those guns are safely stored.

So, I ask.

I don't want anyone to interpret my vigilance about properly storing weapons to mean that I think guns should be outlawed. People hunt, people recreate, people feel safer; I get that, even though I don't feel the need to own a gun.

I know, too, that my son's safety in other people's homes isn't just about guns.

I check to see that adults will be present in the home while my child is there and that an adult is present to supervise if there is a pool. I won't leave my kid hanging out with his friends at a home where I don't know the people and the most-adult person in charge is 16. I always meet the parents and swap home and cell phone numbers with them. I expect them to take as good care of my kid as I do theirs.

I trust my kid, and I trust him to keep himself safe. He knows not to touch a gun. He knows how to swim. He has a cell phone with him and he knows to use it if he feels uncomfortable for any reason, and he knows I will be there as soon as possible to pick him up should he want to leave.

But I don't trust kids and people I don't know.

I was a kid and a teenager once, and I remember the things kids and teens can and do get into. And I know that not all parents are created equal. And, quite frankly, I've covered way too many shooting stories in which someone innocent has died: Kids playing with guns, domestic violence cases, people out hunting.

I just want my kid to be safe.

That said, here is the ranking of guns per 100 residents in the 2007 report I referenced in my post. It's an interesting read and I'm wondering what, if anything, you make of them:

Guns per 100 residents: U.S., 90; Yemen, 61; Switzerland, 46; Iraq, 39; Serbia, 37.5; France, 32; Finland, 32; Greece, 31.8; Canada, 31.5; Sweden, 31.5; Austria, 31; Germany, 30; New Zealand, 26.8; Saudi Arabia, 26.3; Angola, 20.5; Thailand, 16; Australia, 15.5; Mexico, 15; South Africa, 13.1; Turkey, 13; Argentina, 12.6; Italy, 12.1; Pakistan, 12; Spain, 11; Russia, 9; Ukraine 9; Brazil, 8.8; Colombia, 7.2; United Kingdom, 5.6; Iran, 5.3; Philippines, 4.7; India, 4; China, 3.5; Nigeria, 1.

You said, "My first inclination would be to wonder, "Is she prying because she wants to stake out my place? Is she trying to assess the level of security here? Does she know someone who might be interested in stealing the guns?""

OK, so I'm a thief. A middle-class soccer-mom thief with kids, but just for the sake of argument. Wouldn't it make more sense to send my kid to your house for a sleepover to case the joint than ask you about your valuables? (since you've already invited him).

It makes no sense at all. I have two kids who have a rich social life and community with other kids, and their parents, whom we know well, and who take their children's well-being as seriously as we take ours, and who respect our parenting choices, as we respect theirs. Your world sounds sad and isolating to me.
(oops, lost a paragraph there)

In the previous post, I overdeleted and lost a couple of sentences about some of the comments on the Salon version of this article. Many gun owners sound like they live in rural areas where they don't know their neighbors, and where they feel threatened by meth users and so on.

So by "your" world, I meant the world of people who fear their neighbors. I don't know how we all got to be so isolated. Some days I feel like my community is a relic of a bygone era. Everyone seems to be so isolated. Do ideas about gun ownership reflect that difference in how we live?
Rodney Roe states the following:
"I have always owned guns, kept them in a safe when not in use, taught shooting and gun safety, and have always been careful with them."

Then he goes on to also state:
"an acquaintance borrowed one of my guns on a hunting trip. I was cleaning it that evening and discovered a round in the barrel."

He had outed himself with that statement and unintentionally exposed himself as anti-gun.
If a round was in the barrel of a rifle, it had gotten stuck there and was ONLY the "bulloer" and NOT the shellcasing.
Therefore, the "round" would have already been fired and would have probably blown the barrel apart or, in the least, did some extensive damage to the rifle.
"Rounds" do not get stuck in barrels without a cause.
If an "unfired" round was in the rifle, it would have either been in the magazine or in the chamber.
Therefore, if a "round" was in the "barrel", it would have already nbeen expended.
Rodney Roe, you are full of it.
We always asked about guns in our children's friends homes. Never had anyone with a problem about it either. I am not an anti-gun freak and don't mind others having guns - just want to make certain they are truly locked up.

And then when the kids got older the question shifted from guns in the house to adult supervision and alcohol. More to look forward to!!!
Well done! You are about the wisest and most proactive mom that I've read in a while.

Don't let anyone pressure you to stop being the wisest mom, either. It will be the most irresponsible idiots who will start the biggest drama.

xjs and me sent me a pm citing his comment above. As I explained to him/her I loaned a fellow dove hunter a Winchester Model 12 shotgun. The barrel of a Model 12 may be removed with a live round in the chamber. The person I loaned the gun to handed me a loaded gun which I took home, assuming that it was unloaded, and disassembled without ever pulling the trigger, which I did routinely to let the tension off of the spring.
Apparently, xjs and me thinks I'm a closet anti-gun activist posing as a gun owner. As I pointed out in my pm reply, I am not anti-gun. I'm against idiots owning guns. I have to plead mea culpa since I assumed that no one would hand another person a loaded gun as they were packing up prior to going home. You have to remember that there is no assurance that others will practice gun safety. This is my final comment on this subject.
It's also a good idea to ask if they're child molesters.
I always asked these questions when my son was little. I will tell you however tha tI was completely unnerved when he spent the night at a boy's house who collected very large hunting knives. I didn't think to ask about that! RRRR
I assume it's ok to continue by answering your latest response - not that I want to subject your article to even more debate if you don't want it, but you ask what we make of the rankings of the gun/population ratio you noted.

At first glance I'd say it's pretty obvious the U.S. has a lot more guns per capita than any of the countries ranked, followed by Yemen, which I know little about, and Switzerland, where gun control laws I know are far more lax than here. I don't see Israel in the rankings, but they also allow their citizens very easy access to guns. Both Israel and Switzerland have low homicide rates. I'm reasonably certain about Israel and Switzerland, the rest of the homicide rates I mention I'll get from Wikipedia - not the most reliable source, but at this wee hour research ain't my thing anymore....

Interesting that South Africa has the highest homicide rate, and a very low rate of gun ownership. I'm almost blown away, so to speak, by the low homicide rate in the U.S. relative to the number of guns, assuming this Wiki information is credible. The numbers would suggest to me that perhaps guns are really not the issue at all - that homicide rates are influenced by a lot of other factors and that this is cause for further study. Of course, the rate here is not as low as in France, who ranks as one of the lowest, but I'd like to talk about France a little, since this is actually my first country and language. (I was educated here since age 5 and a naturalized citizen since age 12, so I do consider myself American).

My mother used to tell me that France was thought of as the enlightened place among old country Europeans of her parents' day - everyone wanted to live there - the people were thought of as educated, refined, socially advanced. Unfortunately, this shining image did not stop the French from collaborating with the Nazis to send nearly all of its Jewish citizens to the gas chambers. So, the extremely low homicide rate will have to continue for many centuries, as I see it, before they can make up for the millions of innocents they executed. It didn't stop there - the treatment of Algerians by the French less than one decade later was absolutely horrifying. How did these poor people defend themselves? They finally became armed and revolted - not as a militia, but as a severely abused underclass of individuals who resorted to gun smuggling and covert operations just to defend their lives.

One thing I noticed often about my mother and extended family is that, while they fully understood the cruel treatment of minorities they had witnessed in their country, they have (had) a very muddled concept of what the U.S. constitution is all about. They thought, "If the law doesn't work, the government should change it. Simple." It must seem that way to other foreigners as well - they can't figure out why we confused Americans don't outlaw or severely limit gun ownership, or anything else that happens to get in the way of our short term progress. After all, can't we just change the law again and again? It's easy - the French do it all the time. When Brigitte Bardot expresses her anti-Muslim sentiment publicly, she is fined under a new law that prohibits such speech. Two years later, parliament passes a law prohibiting Muslim women from wearing veils in public. Should we still be impressed with the low homicide rate in France?

As close as it seems that we have approached laws of the sort in this country, over the long term we still make much more human rights advances than many countries with fewer guns and lower homicide rates. A Holocaust couldn't happen here, the battle of Algiers wouldn't happen here. We had the Patriot Act, and later a backlash by peaceful non-Muslim citizens who staunchly defended their neighbors' right to build an Islamic community center two blocks from Ground Zero. Fred Phelps and the Westborough Church, hostile as they may speak, are not criminally charged for announcing their convictions (although the recent rulings will now limit their ability to disrupt others' private observances). We owe all of this to our constitution - a fixed document, not a working document or a set of mere guidelines. That said, additional regulations limiting Second Amendment rights will only serve to whittle away that very structure - upon which this country is founded. The regulations are already numerous and would likely be sufficient to make a dent in the number of firearm related deaths/year, but they are not enforced due to the inefficiency of those charged with that task.

I understand that neither you nor many who have responded here are declaring that guns be outlawed, but additional limits to lawful ownership, which seem to be at the heart of the great gun control divide, is not only likely to be ineffective today, it could also lead to additional limits on our First Amendment rights tomorrow. This is the fear of many gun owning and non gun-owning Americans. I'm relieved that the issue is no longer split along party lines or identified as part of the usual liberal/conservative friction. There is now a growing movement of left-leaning government officials and scholars who are standing against what they perceive as unconstitutional proposals regarding gun ownership by private citizens.
I'm right there with you. We haven't let our kids spend the night at my wife's parents house, ever, and this is one (just one of a few) of the reasons. My father in law is a gun happy dude, former marine, loves to hunt, etc. I'm actually concerned that he has guns squirreled away in places in his house, like a crawlspace here, a vent there. So he can get to a gun anywhere if he needs to (I guess that's former vietnam vet issues that hang on). We won't even let our boys leave our sight when there because I don't trust my inlaws to pay attention or secure their weapons. We've talked to them, but they're very much of the hand-waving "oh it's fine" non response variety.

First off, I would say good for you in showing interest and concern over your son's safety. I am in the process of acquiring a handgun, and while I have no weapons in my house at present - I would welcome, at any time, an inquiry into how it is stored - and beyond that, if you felt insecure with your son in our home, I would not for a moment criticize you as a parent for making what you consider to be a safety choice for your son.

The liberty of a parent to raise their child on their terms is at least as important, if not more so, than the liberty to own a firearm.

Though I disagree, respectfully, with the suggestion that fewer firearms will make us safer, all in all. If Loughner wanted a gun, legal or not, it was going to be easy for him to get it. At least with the current law there is a greater liklihood of tracking him down and understanding how and where he got it and what, if anytying, might have been done differently.

Had he acquired an illegal weapon, same result.

It is important to point out that I have never said or implied that “…no amount of risk is acceptable.” If we don’t want to be subjected to any risk, we’ll just stay home and hope not to be injured. I even indicated in my first comment above that there are higher risk factors that could severely injure or kill children and teenagers. The risk is not nonetheless equal to 0. With this said, two points can be made. First, I could show using conditional probabilities that the actual risk involving firearm injuries is actually much higher than dividing the 200 killed in 2007 by the 55 million children. Second, firearm deaths fall under the area called “low probability, high impact events.” This area often applied to terrorism shows that even when an event occurs, based on a minuscule probability, the outcome has extreme consequences. What kind of outcome can be more extreme than the preventable death of a child or the people who were killed on January 8 in Tucson, AZ or at Virginia Tech in 2007? This leads to my third point.

Comparing injury mechanisms caused by stairs, lead paint, darts or the internet with a firearm, which sole purpose is to cause arm and destruction (for high caliber weapons) is disingenuous. Especially so when the total number of deaths caused by all these “risk factors” combined is probably less than the 31,224 who were killed by a firearm in 2007 alone (all causes), of which 2,251 were under 18 years of age. This is actually almost equal to the total number of the people killed in motor vehicle crashes in 2009. Given the level of carnage, asking whether a family friend or neighbor has firearms and, if the answer is positive, how it is stored is not unreasonable.

If we want to be serious about the true risk related to firearms, we should look at the literature on this subject (Note: Gary Mauser does not count, as he’s a nobody). Here’s a very short sample:

Data reveal that people in the United States are three times more likely than Canadians to own firearms on a per-capital basis and are five times more likely to own a handgun. At most, only 5 percent of Canadians obtain a firearm for self-defense. In contrast, about one-third of gun owners in the United States cite self-defense as the main reason for keeping firearms. The rate of firearm homicides is 7 times higher in the United States than in Canada, and the handgun homicide rate is 15 times higher. The rate of robberies involving firearms in the United States is almost 3.5 times the Canadian rate; the firearm suicide rate is 2 times higher; and the rate of deaths from firearms accidents is 3 times higher. In addition, police officers in the United States are seven times more likely than Canadian police officers to be killed in the line of duty; they are almost always killed by firearms. The data also suggest that people in the United States are generally more supportive than Canadians of civilian gun ownership and the use of firearms for self-defense; they also place a higher value on individual rights, while Canadians are more likely to value the collective good. Canadians are authorized to carry handguns for self-defense only in rare circumstances; the majority of States in the United States allow citizens to carry concealed weapons. Both countries maintain a strong tradition of firearms use for hunting and sport shooting. Tables, list of cases, fact sheet, separate report presenting firearms statistics, and 70 references.

From: Firearms and Self-Defence: A Comparison of Canada and the United States: Working Document. Prepared by the Canada Department of Justice (1997).

In the past three decades, a number of researchers have undertaken the comparison of American and Canadian crime rates. Among them, Lipset (1990) and Hagan (1991) have shown that violence was more frequent south of the border than in Canada. Using infra-national disaggregated crime rates, this article shows that differences in the two countries' crime rates are not univocal. First, there is no significant difference in the prevalence in burglaries and in car thefts between both nations. Second, differences in the robbery rate and the homicide rate shrink dramatically when controlling for the region and removing the effect of metropolises. What makes U.S. crime rates appear much higher than Canadian ones can be attributable to a small number of states and cities that have extraordinarily high crime rates. Two factors are proposed to account for this situation: residential segregation of the poor within cities and the availability of firearms.

Crime in Canada and in the United States: A Comparative Analysis. Canadian Review of Sociology & Anthropology Aug99, Vol. 36 Issue 3, p389-408

This study examined the relationship of 16 variables with homicide, suicide, and unintentional firearm deaths. This cross-sectional analysis, using adjusted partial correlation coefficients, found that state-level firearm homicide rates significantly varied by the prevalence of firearms and by percent of the population which was African American. Whereas, state-level variations in firearm suicide mortality significantly varied by firearm prevalence, per capita alcohol consumption, percent of the population which was African American, and level of urbanization. None of the variables were significantly (p [less than or equal to] .05) related to state-level variations in unintentional firearm mortality. Furthermore, state gun laws had only a limited effect on firearm-related homicide deaths. Although the current study cannot determine causation, firearm mortality in its various forms is most commonly related to the prevalence of firearms and the percent of the population that is African American.

From: Factors Associated with State Variations in Homicide, Suicide, and Unintentional Firearm Deaths. Journal of Community Health v. 29 no. 4 (August 2004) p. 271-83.

I could go on and on like this (I have 20 to 30 more papers like this), but I’ll leave that for another day. I don't want to take over this comment thread.

As other people mention here, the issue is not about starting to seize all the guns in the US, but that people have to realize that this is an important problem that cause a significant amount of deaths and severe injuries. This problem is irrelevant of what’s going in South Africa, Israel or Switzerland. As I said in my most recent post, there is sadly no solution.
@Kanuk - As I was reading your highly informative comment, my local news station ran a breaking news story about a police officer killed in the line of duty in a neighborhood. I don't have much more information than that, but the on-the-scene footage showed an upscale home in a nice area. I'm guessing the police were on a domestic violence call. (Cops hate those calls - always nasty and the chance for cops to get injured is high.) I likely won't know the details until the next newscast in a few hours.
Maria: I agree. Based on police officers I worked with in the past, they hate domestic violence cases for the reasons you mentioned (i.e., the risk of being injured or killed is very high). I suggest that you read Steve Klingaman’s piece titled:

The Message and Murder of a Pistol-Packing Soccer Mom

Here are the first two paragraphs of his piece:

The murder last week of Meleanie Hain, “the pistol-packing soccer mom” of Lebanon, Pennsylvania, was a tragedy rich in easy irony. Killed in her home by her husband, Scott Hain, a probation officer, who shot her several times as she was in the midst of a video chat, Meleanie was unarmed when she died. Neighbors heard three children run screaming from the house, “Daddy killed Mommy!” Scott Hain killed himself shortly thereafter, in the upstairs bedroom.

Meleanie Hain’s handgun, a Glock 26 semi-automatic, was in a backpack hanging on a door, a bullet in the chamber. Neighbor Aileen Fortna remarked, "I'm shocked at the whole thing. I'm surprised she didn't defend herself."

As I said above, these kinds of killings happen too often. I also have several research studies describing this awful problem (spousal murders and access to firearms).
Maria & Julia,

Speaking of firearm injury:

From the report:

Alaniz told the affiliate that a student brought the gun to school in a backpack, and when the student dropped the backpack, the gun discharged and wounded two students.

They're lucky!
@Kanuk - the cop killed last night was investigating a robbery, not a domestic violence case as I had suspected. Suspect shot him, he shot suspect, both died.
Thanks! If a trained officer was unfortunately shot to death (I assume his or her gun was already drawn and the officer was ready to shoot), imagine how a less trained civilian would fare in this situation. I would not be surprised if the person who robbed the place stole a 'legal' gun.

Here's the latest update about the accidental shooting:

Los Angeles Police Deputy Chief Patrick Gannon told reporters that the shooting appeared to be accidental. A student brought the gun to school in a backpack, and when the student set the backpack on a desk the gun discharged, wounding two students, he said.

A 15-year-old girl was in critical condition with a head wound, and a 15-year-old boy was in stable condition with a neck wound, Gannon said.

It looks like one of the teenagers may sadly become another statistic that will be added to the 200 or so who are killed each year in firearm accidents.
@Kanuk - the officer was killed with the legally owned gun stolen from the home in the robbery they were investigating.
Breaking news: Someone walked into the Detroit 6th Precinct Police Station and shot four officers. They apparently are alive and being treated in the hospital. The gunman was killed.
Hey Maria,

Did you read this?

Police: Florida boy drops loaded handgun inside pre-kindergarten class