This grieving mother shares the one question all parents should ask about guns

Ashlyn Melton never expected her child to become a statistic. But on December 30, 2011, that’s exactly what happened. He was shot and killed by a friend at a sleepover when the boys were playing with an unlocked, loaded gun that had been left around the house.

Now, Melton is working hard to make sure that parents everywhere know to ask one thing to keep their child safe: are there guns in this house? And are they stored safely?

“In all those years of play dates and sleepovers, I never had anyone ask me about my guns, and I never asked anyone else about theirs,” Melton wrote in a column for TODAY. “I didn’t think to ask. I would have never let my child go there if I had known they had guns lying around unsecured…If I would have known, if I would have asked the question and maybe if they had told me the truth, I wouldn’t have let him go.”

How Melton Became A Gun Safety Advocate

Melton, who is a gun owner herself, is adamant about not wanting to take away anyone’s Second Amendment rights. Instead, she wants gun owners to be as responsible as they claim to be. As she explains in a later column, you ask parents about dogs in the house if your child is afraid of them, or peanuts if your child has a deadly allergy—so why not guns?

Today, Melton is a spokesperson for the ASK Campaign, Asking Saves Kids, a campaign started by both the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and the American Academy of Pediatrics. National ASK Day is June 21. This day is intended to remind parents how crucial it is to ask about guns (unlocked, loaded or otherwise) in the spaces where children play.

And Melton’s fears are not unfounded. According to a study published in the journal Pediatrics, guns are now the third-leading cause of death for children in America. Almost 6,000 children go to the ER every year as a result of gunshot wounds, and more than 20 percent of those injuries are unintentional…just like Noah’s.

How Can You Practice Gun Safety?

There are a number of ways to make sure your kids stay safe from guns. Among these things are trigger locks and safe-storage habits—keeping guns locked away safely whenever they are not in use.

But Melton says the best way to keep your kids safe is to simply ask other parents what their gun-use rules are, and whether or not they keep those guns out of a child’s reach.

“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,” Melton wrote. “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.”