Unlocked & loaded: Just 46% of gun owners safely store their firearms, survey shows

BALTIMORE — It may seem a like no-brainer for gun owners to go the extra mile in properly securing and locking up their firearms, but a stunning national survey finds that most actually don’t.

Conducted by researchers at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, it’s believed to be the first nationally representative survey taken in the last 15 years specifically concerning gun storage. After polling 1,444 gun owners across the country, the authors found that only 46 percent of them store all their firearms safely.

The Internet-based survey, which ran from March 15 to April 13, 2016, defined safe gun storage as all guns kept in a locked gun safe, cabinet or case, stored with a trigger lock or other lock, or locked in a gun rack. The researchers reached this definition with data showing these measures prevent 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,” explains lead study author Dr. Cassandra Crifasi, assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, in a release. “The survey findings indicate a real public health emergency. More than half of gun owners in the U.S. are not storing all of their guns safely—in a locked gun safe, cabinet or case, locked into a gun rack, or secured with a trigger lock.”

The study also found that children under the age of 18 were present in 34 percent of gun owners’ homes. That said, owners were 44 percent more likely to safely store their guns if there were children in the residence — though that translated to only 55 percent of those with kids locking up their weapons. A report on firearm fatalities in 2016 showed that there were 1,637 gun-related deaths among children under 18. About four in 10 of those deaths were the result of suicide. States that have laws in place requiring owners to take measures preventing children from accessing their guns report fewer firearm suicides among adolescents.

In addition to tougher laws helping to prevent injuries and deaths, the survey also found that owners who took gun safety training courses were twice as likely to secure their firearms. Similarly, owners who said discussions with family members influenced their storage practices were 39 percent more likely to safely stow away their guns.

“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,” says Crifasi. “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.”

The study was published March 7, 2018 by the American Journal of Public Health.

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