In the middle of the night on Dec. 30, 2011, I received a call that my son, Noah, 13, who was sleeping over at a friend's house, was in trouble.
I drove over to check, but the call didn’t really alarm me. I assumed the boys were out knocking on doors or toilet-papering houses. They were young boys on Christmas break. What else could it be?
It wasn’t until we got closer that I realized something was wrong. Cop cars, an ambulance, fire trucks, and caution tape surrounded the house. I jumped out of the truck. Someone asked if I was Noah’s mother. Once I said yes, I was given the horrible news. Noah was shot by his friend, at his friend’s house, with an easily accessible gun.
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I screamed so loudly that we were told to go to the police station as to not wake the neighbors. My child had become a statistic. He was killed by his friend who had unlocked and loaded guns in his bedroom.
The message one gun-owning mom needs you to hear
Who allows their child to keep unlocked guns in their room? Still to this day, I can’t wrap my mind around that. Guilt eats at me night and day. The worst thing that can happen to a mother is for her child to be killed. My child was in the care of others who let him and his family down. Forgiveness is something I struggle with daily.
I am a gun owner. I believe in gun locks and following strict safety procedures around guns. I am always surprised that some folks view my beliefs as being against the right to bear arms. I am not against guns. Noah was raised around guns. He went hunting for the first time when he was 3 years old. The difference between us and a lot of other gun owners is that we understand the power a gun can have when not in the right hands or is handled improperly. Guns should be locked and kept away from curious children. They were definitely not allowed in my son’s room.
But no matter what we instilled in him, none of it saved him that night. He was at the mercy of other people. And, sadly, I never imagined that other parents were not as responsible as I am. I never thought to ask his friend’s parents about how they stored their guns because I naively assumed everyone was like me.
As parents, we are supposed to keep our children safe from harm. We put them in a car seat when they are babies, and in a seat belt when they are older. But do we ask about unlocked guns when they are visiting another home? I didn’t. And my child is dead because of it.
It’s simple really. You ask about guns and their storage and then you make the decision about whether or not you feel confident about your children going to that house.
We ask about dogs if our child is scared. We remind other parents if our child has a food allergy. We ask about pools if our child cannot swim. But for some reason, asking about guns seems to be taboo in this day and age. People get offended and recite the Second Amendment. Trust me, I am well aware of the Second Amendment. Safety of our children overshadows any argument thrown at me.
Do the other parents feel like you are invading their privacy? I’m sorry, but asking about a gun in order to keep a child safe is not a privacy issue. Child death by negligence is far more important than the privacy issue.
The reality is that most people are lax when it comes to their guns. They naively think their child won’t touch a gun or use it improperly. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
What if it’s not your child who touched it? What if he or she was the victim because some child wasn’t taught that guns are not toys? Kids do not think long-term. They take risks. That is why we are the parents. We are supposed to practice safety in all that we do. Let’s add gun safety to our task as parents.
Talking to children about gun safety is great. Sharing Noah's story may help drive home the danger in pointing a gun at another human being. But why leave it there? Why risk it? Why make it easy for a child, who is simply being a child, to harm his friend? Instead of suspending kindergarten children for pointing a finger at a friend while saying “bang,” let’s just put our guns out of the reach of our children. Be responsible: Lock them up.
In America, one out of three homes with children has a gun, and nearly 1.7 million children live in a home with a loaded, unlocked gun. Every year thousands of kids are killed and injured as a result. The ASK (Asking Saves Kids) Campaign promotes a simple idea with the potential to help keep kids safe. It encourages parents to ask if there are unlocked guns in the homes where their children play
When your child visits someone else’s home, please ask those parents if they have guns and if they are stored where children can get to them. Don’t worry about sounding insulting or overprotective. If I had asked, perhaps Noah would still be with us. Had those guns been stored with the safety of children in mind, I wouldn’t have to wake up to the reality of living in a world without my baby. Property can be replaced when stolen. Children whose lives are taken too early because of an unlocked gun cannot be replaced.
Ashlyn Melton’s 13-year old son, Noah, died in 2011 from an unintentional shooting. She is a spokesperson for the ASK Campaign, Asking Saves Kids, a campaign created by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence in collaboration with the American Academy of Pediatrics. National ASK Day is June 21 and reminds parents and caregivers of the importance of asking if there are unlocked or loaded guns in the homes where children play.
Editor's note: This story was originally published in June 2018.