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Study: More than half of all U.S. gun owners fail to store their firearms safely

More than half of all U.S. gun owners fail to store their firearms safely
REUTERS/George Frey
Fifty-four percent of the gun owners in the survey reported not storing all of their guns safely.

More than half of Americans who own guns do not store those firearms safely, according to a study published Thursday in the American Journal of Public Health.

In households with children, the percentage who store their firearms safely is only slightly higher, the study also found.

These findings are based on a nationally representative online survey of 1,444 U.S. gun owners taken in the spring of 2016 — the first one to examine gun-storage practices in U.S. households in 15 years, say the study’s authors.

In the survey, safe storage was defined as “locking guns in a secure place such as a gun safe or cabinet or using safety devices such as trigger or cable locks” — a definition supported by many organizations.

A false sense of safety

The study’s key finding — that such a large percentage of gun owners do not store all their guns safely — is deeply troubling. Indeed, Cassandra Crifasi, the study’s lead author and an assistant professor with the Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Gun Policy and Research, said in a press release that it indicates “a real public health emergency.”

“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,” she pointed out. 

As I’ve reported here before, about 1,300 children aged 0 to 17 — more than three a day — die in the United States each year from gunshot wounds. This year, the number will include the 14 children killed February 14 in the tragic mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. But they will also include children like four-year-old Zachary Duke, who died from a gunshot wound in Mouton, Alabama, on February 20.

Zachary had been playing with a purple handgun, which he had gotten hold of after climbing up on some furniture in his home. His parents thought it was out of his reach. 

A false sense of safety was also expressed by the couple who had taken the Parkland shooter, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, into their home last fall after he became orphaned. They mistakenly believed Cruz’s guns were safely locked away in a gun safe to which only they had access. 

Earlier this week, a study published in the journal Pediatrics reported that gun-owning families whose children have psychiatric illnesses are no more likely to keep their guns locked and unloaded than other gun owners.

Key findings

Here are some of the specific findings from the Johns Hopkins study:

  • 54 percent of the gun owners in the survey reported not storing all of their guns safely.
  • 45 percent of the gun owners with children under the age of 18 in their homes reported not storing all of their guns safely. (About a third of the gun owners in the study had children living in their homes.)
  • Gun owners who said they had taken a gun-safety training course were twice as likely to store their guns safely as those who hadn’t taken such a course.
  • Gun owners whose family members had expressed concerns about gun-storage safety were 39 percent more likely than other gun owners to store all their firearms safely.
  • Gun owners who said they had made their gun-storage decision based on their concerns about defending their home were 30 percent less likely to practice safe storage of their firearms.

Believing the messenger

The survey also asked gun owners whom they are most likely to listen to about gun-safety issues. Most (77 percent) said law-enforcement officials, followed by hunting/outdoor organizations (73 percent), active duty military personnel (72 percent) and the National Rifle Association (71 percent).

Few (19 percent) said that they would listen to the suggestions of physicians regarding gun safely, and fewer still (11 percent) said that celebrities would get them to change how they store guns in their home.

With celebrities, however, it may depend on who is asked to deliver the message.

“Although Hollywood tends to be viewed as left-leaning and thus less appealing to gun owners generally, there may be specific individual celebrities who own guns and can garner respect among gun owners who could be persuasive spokespeople for gun safety communication efforts,” Crifasi and her colleagues write in their paper.

Mandatory safety training

“Communicating with gun owners about the importance of safe storage is a challenging opportunity,” said Crifasi. “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 finding in the current study of a positive association between safety training and safe-storage practices suggests that requiring such courses may help save at least some lives.

Currently, however, only a handful of states require such training. Minnesota is not among them. 

FMI: An abstract of the study is on the American Journal of Public Health's website, but the full study is behind a paywall. 

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Comments (2)

It' this kind of study--if

It' this kind of study--if guns and gun violence as a public health crisis in our country--that the Republicans in Congress, and the president, want to prevent by denying the CDC the right to conduct any such research. Look at what results!

In this context it's also easy to perceive how stupid the president's NRA-inspired solution is--to arm certain teachers and have them carry concealed firearms in their classrooms and hallways and cafeterias, etc. Those of us who have actually taught in school know of how many things can go wrong with that scenario, endangering the very lives the Republicans think they're "protecting" with an armed "good guy."

From the study:"Conclusions.

From the study:

"Conclusions. Public health campaigns to promote safe gun storage should consider partnering with groups that garner respect among gun owners for their experience with safe use of guns."

This is a wonderful opportunity for groups like the American Journal of Public Health to spread the news of wonderful and effective gun safety programs for kids like Eddie Eagle

This program should be in place in all public schools. Thanks to the Minnpost for helping share these important stories.