Suicide was the second leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of 13 and 34 in 2015. Close to half of those deaths involved the use of a firearm. Safe storage of firearms limits access to unauthorized users and has the potential to prevent suicide and unintentional injury among both youth and adults. Safe storage includes: locking up guns in a safe or cabinet and using safety triggers and cable locks, which run a locking cable through the barrel, chamber, and magazine. Dr. Cassandra Crifasi and her team conducted an online nationally representative survey of 1,444 U.S. gun owners to investigate storage methods, as well as the factors that influence owners’ attitudes, perceptions, and storage practices.
Almost half of the sample reported storing their guns safely. Close to a third of gun owners reported keeping all of their guns in a locked gun safe or case, while between 13-24% of gun owners stored all of their guns locked in another location. Forty-four percent stored all of their guns assembled but unloaded, and almost two-thirds lock up their ammunition. Around 32% of participants stored all or some of their guns in an unlocked location without a lock. In the end, only 7% (around 100 people) reported that their guns were kept loaded and chambered.
Sixty-six percent of those surveyed were men. The research team found that owning only handguns, having a child at home, and participating in a gun safety training program or family discussion significantly influenced the odds of safe gun storage. The odds of safe gun storage decreased when respondents owned five or more guns, kept guns for home defense, or lived in East-South Central region of the U.S. As reflected in the table below, when asked what most influenced gun storage at home, 43% responded with concerns about home defense. Social groups most influential to gun owners’ attitudes about safe firearm storage were law enforcement officers, hunting or outdoor groups, active-duty military, and the National Rifle Association.
Safe storage of firearms is an important public health measure. Crifasi and colleagues recommend that public health officials collaborate with partners who influence gun owner’s safety practices, such as local law enforcement and the NRA. Evidence about factors contributing to safe gun storage, such as family discussion and previous training, should be incorporated into outreach programs to gun owners.
Feature image: Ray Dehler, IMG_3826, used under CC BY 2.0. Table from Cassandra K. Crifasi, Mitchell L. Doucette, Emma E. McGinty, Daniel W. Webster, Colleen L. Barry, “Storage Practices of US Gun Owners in 2016”, American Journal of Public Health 108, no. 4 (April 1, 2018): pp. 532-537. DOI: 10.2105/AJPH.2017.304262