I knew Diane Sawyer’s special on kids and guns that aired Friday night was going to disturb me. I’m really afraid of guns and the thought of having one in a house with kids terrifies me. I just didn’t realize what was going to disturb me most of all – that gun-owning parents seem to have an unrelenting faith that their kids either don’t know where their guns are, or have no interest. Wrong.
The special opened with a segment that shows just how strong a child’s curiosity is when it comes to guns. Kids were left alone in a room with guns, after having just taken a gun safety course. In most cases the children seemed to grasp that guns were dangerous and shouldn’t be touched – but that didn’t stop their overwhelming curiosity. They clearly didn’t grasp that touching a gun could end in death – as evidenced by several children who actually looked down the barrel – one pulling the trigger right in his own face saying, when I pointed at me it didn’t shoot.
“It’s not until much later in childhood that adolescents and children understand that death doesn’t mean going to sleep,” says Doctor Marjorie Sanfilippo who specializes in child psychology and helped with the experiment. Time and time again, kids who knew better went for the guns. Some even waved them around, narrating what they were doing as they were crossing the line. It’s glaringly obvious that these children cannot grasp the grave seriousness of the situation. We’re putting way too much faith in our young children – forgetting that they are kids. Forgetting that the only exposure they’ve had to guns is probably playing with them as “toys.”
“They can learn the knowledge. They can sit down and you can ask them to repeat it – but you can’t educate curiosity out of a child,” Sanfillippo says.
You can’t educate curiosity out of a child. This statement really stayed with me. I remember being a child and knowing every hiding place my parents had for everything. I knew where my mom left our stash of emergency cash – in a seemingly broken flap of plywood under her bathroom sink. I knew where my dad kept his stash of cigarettes in the garage. I knew where the Christmas presents were hidden – every year. Kids are curious – and they have nothing better to do that nose around the house all day.
It was terrifying to see scene after scene of parents revealing the “hiding places” of their loaded guns; under a stack of clothes in their closet, behind some hanging coats in the hall, in hollowed-out bibles, even in make-up bags. Time and time again these parents were shocked that their children could point to where there guns were kept in moments. The parents, seemingly comforted by the fact that they’ve told their kids not to touch. One woman even left her loaded gun on the kitchen table, confident that her young child would never touch it and shocked to see that she had. I don’t understand this.
I wish I could hypothesize that this was creative editing on the part of the producers, but with 40% of gun owners who have children in the home not storing their weapons in locked safes – I think the show was a pretty fair representation of where we are going wrong. People always get obstinate when the subject of guns is brought up – and I’m talking about both sides. It’s just one of those issues. Whenever I write a story about kids and guns, there are plenty of people lining up to talk about how safe their guns are. I’ll believe it if safe means “in a safe,” not under a pile of clothes at the top of a closet.
That’s just stupid.
(photo: Getty Images)