Before Arranging Playdates, Ask About Guns

Photo: ABC News recently invited 10 sets of parents and children in Amelia, Ohio, to speak openly about gun safety with Eckerd College psychologist Marjorie Hardy.

Stephen and Robbie are typical 11-year-olds who became fast friends after meeting at their local Boys and Girls club in Amelia, Ohio. They discovered a similar love of video games and shooting hoops, so it wasn't a surprise when they asked to start visiting one another's homes for playdates.

But after months of visits, it did come as a surprise to Stephen's mom, Carol, that Robbie's dad, Jan, kept handguns in his home for protection. The families asked that their last names not be used to protect their privacy.

"Stephen's been going to Jan's house to play with Robbie, and I had no idea Jan even had guns," Carol admitted. "It just never came up as a conversation."


Daniel Gross, the CEO and co-founder of PAX, the nation's largest nonpartisan gun violence prevention organization, said that 40 percent of homes with children have a gun.

"Nearly 1.7 million children live in homes with firearms that are loaded and unlocked, and every day eight children die from guns," he said. "These statistics are unacceptable. Parents can help make their children safer. All they have to do is ask. Parents ask all sorts of questions to protect their children when they go play at the home of a friend, neighbor or relative. But there is one important question that more than half of parents say it never even occurred to them to ask: Is there a gun where my child plays?"

PAX, along with the National Association of Pediatrics, wants parents to start a dialogue about guns in the home, because no matter how much you trust your children -- statistics show they are going to snoop.

ABC News recently invited 10 sets of parents and children in Amelia, Ohio, to speak openly about gun safety with Eckerd College psychologist Marjorie Hardy.

Hardy's research has revealed that what children tell their parents and what is true is often in contradiction.

"I think the majority of parents believe that their children would act maturely in the presence of a gun and the majority of those children would not," she said. "In one recent study 65 percent of the parents believe their children to have little or no interest in guns. And then when those children had the opportunity to touch a .38 caliber semiautomatic handgun, 35 percent did."

Kids and Guns: Better Safe Than Shy

Hardy said locking away guns should be part of the basic child-proofing of a home.

"We put gates around swimming pools, we put childproof caps on poisons. We need to lock away guns," she said. "I think it needs to be framed as a public health issue, because otherwise, the whole issue of guns and kids becomes wrapped up in the Second Amendment. It's not about an individual's right to own guns, it's about a child's right to live in an environment that's safe."

And that is the framework for PAX's Asking Saves Kids campaign.

"We're not getting involved in a public debate about gun ownership," Gross said. "We know everyone wants to keep children safe, so we have helped come up with some simple guidelines to ask the questions. We try to take any hint of judgment out of the question, and the results become a lot more powerful."

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