More than half of US gun owners participating in a new survey reported not safely storing all their firearms.
The survey of 1,444 US gun owners, believed to be the first nationally representative sample in 15 years to examine storage practices, found that 54 percent did not store all their guns in a way considered safe.
“Many bring guns into their homes for self-defense, but unsecured guns can lead to unintentional shootings, suicides, and tragic cases of troubled teens using guns…”
The internet-based survey, fielded in 2016, defined safe storage as placement in a locked gun safe, cabinet, or case, or on a locked gun rack, or storage with a trigger lock or other lock. This definition tracks research showing these practices reduce the risk of unauthorized access or use.
“Household gun ownership can increase the risk of homicides, suicides, and unintentional shootings in the home, but practicing safe storage for all guns reduces these risks,” says lead study author Cassandra Crifasi of the Johns Hopkins University Center for Gun Policy and Research. “The survey findings indicate a real public health emergency.”
The survey found that children under 18 lived in about one-third of gun owners’ homes. Gun owners were 44 percent more likely to report safely storing all their firearms if they had a child under 18 at home: Slightly more than half, or 55 percent, of gun owners with children under 18 reported storing all of their guns safely.
Respondents were also asked about factors that influenced their gun storage practices. Concerns about home defense was selected by 43 percent, a gun safety course by 35 percent, and family discussions by 30 percent.
In 2016, the most recent year with complete data, there were 1,637 firearm deaths among children under 18; 39 percent of these deaths were suicides. States with laws that require gun owners to ensure children do not gain unauthorized access to firearms report fewer firearm suicides among adolescents. Studies have also shown a decreased risk for self-inflicted injury among adolescents when guns are stored safely.
Gun owners who said that a gun safety course had influenced their storage practices were twice as likely to practice safe storage for all their guns, and owners who cited discussions with family members as an influence were 39 percent more likely to do so.
“It’s encouraging to see the positive associations between safety training and reporting safe storage practices,” says study coauthor Daniel Webster, director of the Center for Gun Policy and Research. “Requiring gun purchasers to take safety training classes, as a handful of states already do, might lead to more gun owners storing their guns safely.”
The survey also found that gun owners who tied their storage decisions to concerns about home defense were 30 percent less likely to practice safe storage for all firearms.
“Many bring guns into their homes for self-defense, but unsecured guns can lead to unintentional shootings, suicides, and tragic cases of troubled teens using guns to commit acts of violence,” Crifasi says.
“Communicating with gun owners about the importance of safe storage is a challenging opportunity. If we are successful at improving storage practices among gun owners, particularly those with children in the home, we could reduce risks for gun violence and injury.”