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Play Dates With Guns


Missy Carson Smith, founder, Gun Safe Mom     

Vicki Hall, handgun instructor

Alex Kopystenski, single dad who lost his 6-year-old son in an accidental shooting


BY JOAN WHITELY -- When your child or grandchild visits a friend’s home, do you know whether that household has loaded firearms that are easily accessible?

If you don’t know, you ought to, according to shooting instructor Vicki Hall and Missy Carson Smith, who’s the founder of a group called Gun Safe Mom.

Assessing the risk is not to pass judgment on a host family’s right to gun ownership or their choice for storing weapons. It’s a simple matter of safety, according to Smith.”With kindergarten comes the opportunity to socialize with other children with whom you’re not familiar.”

Alex Kopystenski’s 5-year-old son accidentally shot and killed himself with Alex’s handgun in Alex’s presence, in 2009. Kopystenski has been on probation since he pleaded guilty in 2011 to child abuse and neglect with substantial bodily harm.

“Bad things happen to everybody,” is what Kopystenski said he learned from losing Giovanni, who had a degree of autism. Through a small organization called Giovanni’s Legacy Foundation, “We want to educate people through our loss and our tragedy to take extra precautions,” he said.

Not all the panelists own firearms – as a felon, Kopystenski isn’t allowed to. But they agreed that when a child starts making friends and visiting new homes, the parents need to establish whether guns will be accessible.

And that takes some boldness, as well as diplomacy, admitted Smith, a Michigan mother of four children under age 10. She started Gun Safe Mom after learning, belatedly, that her oldest child had played at the home of a carpool friend where guns are present.

But guns had touched Smith’s family earlier, too. When she was 13, her 12-year-old brother was shot and killed by an unstable classmate who had invited him over.

Gun Safe Mom doesn’t promote gun safety by lobbying for new laws or government action. The goal is to encourage friendly dialogue between families to assess children’s accessibility to firearms.

“We informed the parents that we had firearms in the home,” is how Hall said she and her husband handled visits by their own children’s friends after they started school.

But not all hosts volunteer their gun status. For parents who are leery about asking other adults whether they own guns, Smith recommends removing the emotion, and initiating the talk with respect. “They’re afraid they might think I’m invading their privacy to ask this. But there really is no greater invasion of privacy than a young, curious child” who has come to visit.



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