SEATTLE — The topics of gun ownership and gun control have never felt more polarizing, these days. Still, it shouldn’t be difficult for all to agree that firearms are powerful, potentially destructive tools that must be handled with a certain amount of respect and forethought. As such, one of the first rules of gun ownership has always been to properly secure the weapon in a safe and secure location when they aren’t in use. Unfortunately, and rather unbelievably, a recent survey administered to 3,000 gun owners at gun safety events in Washington state found that 40% don’t lock their guns up at home, even if they have kids.
Researchers from the University of Washington handed out one-page surveys to gun owners waiting in line for free firearm storage devices at various gun safety events in sporting goods stores. In all, 40% said they have at least one firearm in their home that is not locked and secured. Another 39% said they keep at least one gun loaded in their home, and 14% said they store all their firearms unlocked and loaded in their home.
“Even in this population, which clearly had some interest in or awareness of firearm safety, there was a high prevalence of unlocked firearms,” says lead author Aisha King, who worked on the study as a graduate student in UW’s School of Public Health, in a statement.
King and her team conducted their surveys at gun safety events in 10 Washington cities between 2015 and 2018. Their findings point to the unsettling conclusion that, for a great number of gun owners, the presence of children at home does not make a difference when it comes to gun safety.
According to previous research, storing firearms locked and unloaded reduces the risk of both unintentional and self-inflicted firearm injuries among young people by over 70%.
“The purpose of the events is to increase the use of safe firearm storage, an evidence-based strategy to reduce firearm related injuries and deaths,” says study co-author Elizabeth Bennett, director of community health and engagement at Seattle Children’s. “Our goal is to create a comfortable environment to learn about locking up firearms and to have the devices ready to use right away.”
Previous research has suggested that gun safety events are effective at reaching a key demographic for gun safety in the home: male gun owners. King and her team say the majority of owners in the U.S. are male, and typically take responsibility for how the firearms are stored in their home. However, most parents who attend gun safety classes and events held in pediatrician offices or other clinical settings are female.
On the bright side, almost all of the 3,000 individuals who completed surveys said they plan to use their free safety device within the following week.
King adds that part of the problem is that some adults think their younger children don’t know where their guns are located or don’t know how to access them, when in reality many children do.
“A lot of times, the kids do know,” King concludes. “Also, guardians might think that training adolescents or older children is enough to keep them safe, that training means they don’t have to lock their guns. Unfortunately, a lot of adolescents are at high risk of suicide, and unlocked guns add to that risk – regardless of training.”
The study is published in the journal Preventative Medicine.