Miss Conduct

Hold your fire

With sales on the rise, here’s how to talk with the gun owners in your life.

 >At my sister-in-law’s home on New Year’s Eve, we were shocked to see her husband “John” carrying a loaded gun. My sister-in-law was unconcerned: “He always carries it,” she said. They host all the holiday family gatherings, but I don’t want to attend when John is carrying a gun. My husband agrees, but no one else seems to think it’s a problem — including the parents of the 3-year-old John spent most of the night playing with. How do we handle this without alienating ourselves from the family? We cannot have everyone to our house.

G.P. / Haverhill  

A party with loaded guns and toddlers is not, unfortunately, the best time and place to discuss the wisdom of having parties with loaded guns and toddlers. Now that some time has passed, how do you think family members would respond if you told them that guns bother you and asked whether they’d keep them locked in a safe when you visit, as a kindness? There doesn’t have to be any more drama to it than asking a hostess if she might keep the cat in the bedroom when you visit.


If you suspect it would somehow be more complicated, though, figure out what’s bothering you before saying anything. Why do you object to an armed and loaded host?

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Because John drinks while carrying. If John celebrated the new year with anything stronger than what Mitt Romney drowned his election-night sorrows in, your husband needs to lay down the law with his family. If the booze is flowing, the bullets are locked up. Period.

Don’t get baited into an argument. This is not about the Second Amendment, any more than taking a drunk friend’s car keys away is about his carbon footprint. Amaretto and ammo don’t mix. The family can either go along or celebrate its well-lubricated, well-armed holidays without you.

Because guns make you nervous. Granted, an armed host is nothing to be happy about. I can think of dozens of scenarios in which having a loaded handgun at a party could make things worse and almost none in which it would improve things. (If one is so desperately under siege that staying armed is the safest option, one might wish to postpone entertaining.) But assuming John is responsible, you were probably at a lower risk of accident inside his house than you were driving to get there.

Educate yourself. Take a firearms course (one of my own 2013 goals), or have a friend — or John? — give you shooting lessons. Ignorance is never the answer.


Because you disapprove. Perhaps you weren’t worried about that particular gun going off that particular New Year’s Eve, but about all the guns, in all the homes. Guns found by small exploring fingers. Guns tempting the despairing to suicide. Guns giving sick, sad people the power to devastate communities in seconds. And then guns, more guns, being touted as the solution that will keep us safe.

If this is how you feel, you are not alone. The Newtown murders have galvanized many people who want to see America’s gun culture changed. Find those people and their petitions and projects. But leave John alone. When you are under another person’s roof, you cannot ask that he adhere to your morality — only honor your quirks.

Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.

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