Dear Miss Manners:

I am a widow with two children, and I keep a loaded gun in a very secret place in my house. One of my children knows where the gun is, and the other I haven't told as I deem him too immature.

Am I obliged to tell guests, particularly house guests with children, of the situation? It seems to me it's none of their business. Also it would be awkward to say, "Welcome to my home. By the way, I keep a loaded gun in the house."

Some of my friends are terrified of guns. Once I felt compelled to tell a friend because she often left her kids under my supervision. At first she was alarmed, but I explained that, while I couldn't absolutely guarantee it would never be found, I feel the risk is worth it as it provides at least some means of defending her children in case of attack. Her fears were assuaged.

Recently, a friend with two children stayed with me for a few weeks. Although her husband is in the military, she doesn't allow her children to play with toy guns. During her visit, she found her daughter playing with a toy rifle and was absolutely horrified. My friend confronted me and asked me point-blank (no pun intended) if I had a gun in the house.

Again, I was able to calm her down, and by the end of her trip she was talking about buying a gun herself since her husband is frequently away. What do you think of all this?

What you have hidden there is a loaded question.

No matter how convincingly you argue that what you keep in your house is not your guests' business, or that yours is the safer policy, the fact remains that many people object to having their children in houses with loaded guns, and that you are aware that some of your friends are terrified at the prospect.

Miss Manners even suspects that some may not agree with your definition of a "very safe place" as one that is known to a mature child, whatever that is.

However, she notices that you were successful in calming down your guest, and only wants to point out that the time to attempt this is before the guest has arrived, settled in and would feel awkward fleeing. It seems to Miss Manners a great deal less awkward for you to say, at the time of the invitation, "I think you should know that I keep a loaded gun in the house, but let me tell you why."

Dear Miss Manners:

Another rule for Halloween: Go only to homes that have porch lights on, indicating a welcome. Some of us are too ill, tired or mobility-challenged to participate, but, despite our having no porch light lit, hordes of mothers with children come as early as 4:30 p.m.

Your point is well taken. In addition, Miss Manners has always optimistically believed that the trick option will not be exercised when parents point out that their children cannot reasonably expect everyone to be on call for their visits.

Feeling incorrect? Address your etiquette questions (in black or blue-black ink on white writing paper) to Miss Manners, in care of this newspaper.

(C) 1999, Judith Martin