Survey Finds Most Illinois Parents and Caregivers Do Not Ask About Firearms in the Home

February 14, 2024
  • Fewer than 4 in 10 parents report ever asking another parent about the presence of a firearm in their home.
  • Parents from rural communities, mothers, older parents, and parents with less than a college degree were less likely to have asked about firearms in the home.
  • Parents can make a New Year’s resolution to always ask about the presence of firearms before their child goes to a home where they have not been before. 

Only 38 percent of Illinois parents and caregivers ask about firearms in the home before allowing a child to play at another home according to the latest parent survey from Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. These findings come as dangers posed by having firearms in households with children are more prevalent than ever.  

The latest report from the hospital’s Voices of Child Health in Chicago program builds on previous studies where Chicago parents identified gun violence as one of their top concerns for their children’s safety. The survey asked over 1,000 parents, step-parents and guardians from across the state of Illinois about whether they had ever asked another parent about the presence of an unlocked firearm in their home before allowing their child to visit the home for a playdate, for example. 

Tragically, many firearm accidents involving children occur when they are playing at a friend’s home and find improperly stored guns. According to, the American Academy of Pediatrics’ parenting website, an estimated 4.6 million children live in households with access to unlocked, loaded guns: which is not an effective way to protect children from firearm-related injury.  One way to help keep children safe from unintentional violence is to inquire about a household’s firearm safety practices before allowing them to have unsupervised time at another home. 

"We encourage parents to make a plan to add a question about the presence of firearms in the home to the regular questions they would ask before their child goes to a home for the first time, in the same way they would ask about who will be watching the children or mention any allergies. Parents could add this to their list of New Year's resolutions for 2024," said Marie Heffernan, PhD, Assistant Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine and Director of Voices of Child Health in Chicago at Lurie Children’s. 

To help parents can initiate conversations about the presence of firearms in the home before allowing their child to visit, researchers suggest: 

  • Initiate open communication. Open the door for dialogue by voluntarily sharing your own safety practices before hosting a playdate at your home.
  • Be clear and direct when asking about the potential presence of firearms and how they are stored in the home. Straightforward conversation can prevent misunderstandings. 
  • If you learn that a firearm is present in the household, inquire about what safety measures the owner takes, such as storing firearms in a locked area, keeping them unloaded while in storage, and storing ammunition separately.
  • If any firearm measures expressed make you uncomfortable, suggest an alternative location to meet, like a park or playground, or invite the other child to come over to your house instead.
  • Visit for additional resources and tips on household firearm safety. 

“It is part of normal development for kids to do things with a friend that they might never consider doing on their own. This is why it so important for parents to ask if firearms are stored safely when their child goes to another house to play,” says Karen Sheehan, MD, MPH, Associate Chair for Advocacy in Pediatrics at Lurie Children’s and Medical Director of the Patrick M. Magoon Institute for Healthy Communities, and Professor of Pediatrics, Medical Education, and Preventive Medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. 

Data gathered from the Lurie Children’s survey also indicated the likelihood that a parent had asked about the potential presence of a firearm differed by demographics. Parents in rural communities were less likely to have inquired about a firearm (26 percent) compared to their urban counterparts (41 percent). Responses varied by parental gender as well; mothers were less likely to have asked (33 percent) than fathers (48 percent). Parents who had earned a high school degree (34 percent) or completed some college (31 percent) were less likely to have asked about a firearm than parents who had earned a college degree or higher (49 percent). Younger parents (41 percent of those aged 18-30 and 43 percent of those aged 31-40) were more likely to have asked about household firearm practices compared to older parents (25 percent of those aged 41-50 and 32 percent of those over 50 years old). 

Survey findings are based on data from the Voices of Child Health research group at Lurie Children’s. The survey was administered to parents across Illinois exclusively via the QualtricsXM panel between September and October 2023. Responses came from parents across the state of Illinois.  

Population-focused child health research at Lurie Children’s is conducted through the Mary Ann & J. Milburn Smith Child Health Outcomes, Research, and Evaluation Center at the Stanley Manne Children’s Research Institute. The Manne Research Institute is focused on improving child health, transforming pediatric medicine and ensuring healthier futures through the relentless pursuit of new knowledge. Lurie Children’s is ranked as one of the nation’s top children’s hospitals in U.S. News & World Report and is the pediatric training affiliate for Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Last year, the hospital served more than 221,000 children from 47 states and 30 countries.