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After backlash, Dear Abby changes stance on gun safety etiquette for parents

"I have heard all of you loud and clear, and I apologize."
/ Source: TODAY Contributor

On National ASK (Asking Saves Kids) Day this summer, June 21, the ASK campaign encouraged parents all over the country to make a pledge to ask other parents if they have an unlocked gun in their homes before letting their children visit them.

But on the same day, renowned syndicated advice columnist Dear Abby published a question from a mother about how to approach other parents about guns in their home, and she gave advice that seemed to contradict that of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

"If you start asking other parents whether they have guns in their homes and how they store them, your questions may be off-putting," Dear Abby answered. "Because you are concerned for your child's safety, why not offer to have the kids visit your house for playdates? I'm sure many of the parents will be glad to have some free time, and it shouldn't offend anyone."

The response caused a stir. The column received 1,236 comments and apparently many emails that took Dear Abby to task for her advice. After the backlash and a conversation with Brady Center representatives, the columnist ran another post this week apologizing for her earlier statement and reversing her suggestion.

"Of course you are right. The woman's question wasn't about etiquette. It was about child safety," Dear Abby wrote. "A large number of readers besides you agreed my perspective was off. I have heard all of you loud and clear, and I apologize."

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Sharing letters from a pediatric nurse, a pediatrician, and a professor in criminal justice that explained to the columnist why her advice was wrong, Dear Abby said, "I should have advised: 'You are responsible for your child's welfare. Part of assuring her safety involves asking whether weapons are on the premises and, if so, what safety precautions have been taken.'"

In a second column, Dear Abby shared a physician and mother's specific advice for how to ask about unlocked guns in a home in a way that would reduce the perceived potential awkwardness for all involved.

Dear Abby pointed out the same precautions might be taken for dangers such as prescription drugs, swimming pools, caustic chemicals and foods to which a parent's child is allergic. "You should also ask if the children will be under parental supervision at all times," she wrote. "If anyone feels concern for your child's safety is presumptuous, do not allow your child to play there. Suggest instead that the children play at your house."

Brady Center president Dan Gross said in a press release, "Dear Abby has gone beyond just correcting the record; I'm proud to consider her an advocate now too. Our children's safety is something we call ALL get behind and all speak out for."

Gross said parents ask all kinds of questions when determining their children's safety, and guns "are really no different" than asking about food allergens or pets."Dear Abby and the Brady Center both advise parents to ASK if there’s an unlocked, loaded gun where their child plays," he said. "We thank Dear Abby for taking the time to hear us out and use her platform to spread the word. It's a simple question, but one that really does have the power to save young lives."