Should an adoption agency be able to consider whether a household has firearms as part of a decision on whether to allow adoption? The question has come to a head in Florida, where at least one agency is using forms that ask about firearms ownership
as part of the adoption process.
This one strikes a little close to home for me because I was adopted. My adopted family did not have guns in the house while I was growing up, and I do not think that was a good thing. Obviously it doesn't determine the outcome of a child's life, but it's made my own interest in firearms more difficult to pursue -- and I had more opportunities than most kids in a home without firearms would have, because I encountered firearms in a controlled and positive environment outside of the home. Many others would have only negative experiences with guns in the absence of a family that can demonstrate positive gun ownership.
So what are the pros and cons of considering gun ownership in the adoption process? To start with, let's frame the question a little bit more. Kids are not only adopted as newborns; some are adopted significantly older than that, even potentially as teenagers. Some are adopted by strangers, others by family friends or relatives after the parents pass away. There's a broad spectrum of adoptees to consider, and many of those who are no longer newborns are not exactly angels either.
So, on the pro side:
- Some children may not be responsible enough to handle firearms when adopted, through no fault of the adopting parents;
- Some children may intentionally misuse firearms.
- The adopting parents are taking an unknown factor into their home, and may not fully appreciate the necessary precautions.
- The decision to allow an adoption is one where a great deal of discretion is present on many different factors. Gun ownership is by no means the only potentially discriminating factor.
- There is some evidence that responsible use of legal firearms helps children to avoid other negative behaviors.
On the con side:
- Asking about firearms ownership creates a registry of firearms in the possession of the government agencies charged with making that decision.
- Asking about firearms is likely to strongly, and irrationally, prejudice the people making the decision whether to allow the adoption.
- Making a gun-free home a prerequisite for adoption is likely to discourage an enumerated Constitutional right, even if such restrictions are not applied to a broad segment of the population.
- Nothing that I know of prevents adoptive parents from acquiring a firearm after the adoption decision has been made.
- The degree of scrutiny applied to potential adopting parents is almost certainly already sufficient to screen out felons, who are already prohibited from possessing firearms.
What it boils down to is simple. There are people who can be trusted with firearms, there are people who can't be trusted with firearms, and people move between those groups in both directions. Asking about gun ownership is not enough information (even if answered truthfully) to determine whether someone is a responsible gun owner, or whether a child is at particular risk for a bad outcome from being in a gun-owning home. Asking the question by itself (regardless of how the answer is handled) creates some negative consequences.
And it's all unnecessary, because we already have a societal proxy for responsible gun ownership. Quite simply, we treat felons (plus those convicted of domestic violence) as not being sufficiently responsible to own a gun; all other adults are considered responsible by default. The adoption process almost certainly checks for a criminal record already. Thus, we are already weeding out the "bad gun owners" earlier in the process, using a method which does not have privacy implications and does not impose a Constitutional right.
Because felons are already excluded, asking about firearms specifically during the adoption process can only lead to negative results. There is no positive benefit to asking about firearms in addition to checking for criminal background.
That should make the decision simple.