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The decision to keep a firearm in the home is very serious and one that must not be made lightly (Read our statement on kids and guns in the home.) If you choose to keep a gun, you must become fully informed about the risks of firearms to your family and others who visit your home.
The risks to our children of unsafe firearm storage practices are significant. Without any exaggeration, the way a gun is stored can be a matter of life and death for our children. Tragedies occur daily involving unlocked firearms easily accessible to young people, either at their own homes or the home of a relative or neighbor. These tragedies might very well never have happened if the adults in these children’s lives had unloaded and locked their firearms and ammunition, so that the children could not have such easy access to them.
National research shows that 40% of households with children have a firearm in the house, and 1 in 4 of these guns is kept loaded. In addition, in a majority of accidents and suicides and in many of the homicides, the firearms that were used were found at home.
It is vital that guns always be locked up and stored unloaded. Children never should have easy access to guns without parental supervision. This is especially true for handguns, because they are much more likely to be kept where children can get to them. According to the National Institute of Justice survey, handguns are likely to be stored in bedrooms where it is easy for children to find them.
Children are naturally curious, especially when it comes to guns. Parents should not lull themselves into a false sense of security on this matter, even if they have spoken to their children about guns. As Judy Shaw, Director of the Injury Prevention Program at Children’s Hospital in Boston, noted, "any small child who picks up a gun . . . is going to put a finger on the trigger and click it." All parents must take common sense steps to protect children, both by talking to them about guns and by unloading and locking all guns so that a child or teen cannot access them without direct adult supervision.
To ensure the safety of children, all gun owners should:
There are a variety of devices for securing your firearm. Though safes seem to provide the most security, many people prefer locks, which are often available for free, or at a low cost.
There are three good places to start looking for a gun-lock distribution program in your area:
Below are some additional links about the importance and implications of safe storage practices.
American Journal of Public Health 90:588-594, 4/1/2000
Firearm Storage Patterns in US Homes With Children
This study shows that many children live in homes with firearms that are stored in an accessible manner and efforts to prevent children's access to firearms are needed. (Also published as a Rand Report.)
Authors: Schuster, Franke, Bastian, Sor, and Halfon (UCLA School of Public Health/RAND Center for Research on Maternal, Child, and Adolescent Health).
Pediatrics (Journal of the AAP) 104:1059-1063, 11/1/1999
Firearms in the Home: Parental Perceptions
A majority of gun-owning parents store their firearms loaded or unlocked, substantially underestimating the risk of injury to their children. Many firearm-owning parents trust their child with a loaded gun and believe that their young child can tell the difference between a toy gun and a real gun.
Authors: Farah, Simon, and Kellermann (Emory University School of Medicine and the Center for Injury Control).
National Institute of Justice Research in Brief, 5/1/1997
Guns in America: National Survey on Private Ownership and Use of Firearms
This reports contains the results of a nationally representative telephone survey (1994) on private ownership and use of firearms by American adults. The survey provides the most complete data available on the private stock of firearms in the United States. (Requires Adobe Reader.) Or click here for plain text file.
Authors: Cook (Duke University) and Ludwig (Georgetown University).
RAND (also American Journal of Public Health 90:588-594), 4/1/2000
Guns in the Family: Firearm Storage Patterns in U.S. Homes with Children
This study, a RAND analysis of data regarding firearm ownership and storage patterns, found that of U.S. families with children and firearms, fewer than half store their firearms unloaded, locked, and away from ammunition.
Authors: Schuster, Franke, Bastian, Sor, and Halfon (UCLA School of Public Health/RAND Center for Research on Maternal, Child, and Adolescent Health).
St. Petersburg Times, 9/12/1999
Know Where a Neighbor's Gun Is? Your Kid Just Might
An article touching on ways to ask friends, neighbors, and relatives about how guns are stored in their homes.
Pediatrics (Journal of AAP) 111:e109-e114, 2/1/2003
Most Parents Think Child Wouldn't Play with Gun
This study, "'They’re Too Smart for That': Predicting What Children Would Do in the Presence of Guns," finds that the vast majority of parents think their child would not pick up a gun if they found one, even though many parents have not specifically told their child what to do if they find a gun. The survey of Ohio parents also found that only 12% of gun owners with kids keep their guns locked and unloaded.
Authors: Connor (Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital) and Wesolowski (Case Western Reserve University).
Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine 160: 542-547, 5/30/2006
Parental Misperceptions About Children and Firearms
This study found that many parents who were living in homes with firearms and who reported that their children had never handled firearms in their homes were contradicted by their children's self-reports. Furthermore, the study also found that those parents who locked their guns and discussed gun safety with their children were as likely to be contradicted as parents who did not take such safety measures.
Authors: Baxley (San Francisco General Hospital) and Miller (Harvard School of Public Health).
National Shooting Sports Foundation/Project ChildSafe
Putting a Lock on Safety (Firearm Safety in the Home)
Project HomeSafe was created to help firearm owners be responsible for properly securing and handling any firearm. This page has instructions on the safe handling and storage of firearms and a chart of the various locking devices available. Download firearms safety brochure.
(Requires Adobe Reader.)
The Future of Children 12 (Journal of The David and Lucile Packard Foundation) , 8/1/2002
Study Finds Gun Safety Training for Kids Ineffective; Parents Must Prevent Unsupervised Access
This comprehensive issue, entitled "Children, Youth, and Gun Violence," finds that programs to train kids to stay away from guns, or behave responsibly on their own around guns, do not work. The report suggests that instead of trying to change youth behavior around guns, parents should focus on keeping kids away from unsupervised contact with guns, whether at home or in the community.
CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Reports, 3/7/2003
Study Shows that Guns in School Shootings Come from Home or Friend/Relative's Home
This study entitled, "Source of Firearms Used by Students in School-Associated Violent Deaths -- United States, 1992-1999," concludes that among the incidents for which data are available, the majority of the firearms used in school-associated violent deaths were obtained from perpetrators' homes or from friends or relatives.
Survey finds 1.7 million children live in home with unlocked, loaded guns
This survey examined the prevalence of household firearms and firearm-storage practices to estimate the number of children exposed to unsafe storage practices. Among its findings were that 1.7 million of today's youth, ages 18 and under, are living in households with unlocked, loaded firearms.
Authors: Catherine A. Okoro, David E. Nelson, James A. Mercy, Lina S. Balluz, Alex E. Crosby, and Ali H. Mokdad
The Christian Science Monitor, 3/12/2001
Where School Shooters Get Their Guns
As the number of school shootings continues to grow, topped by last week's tragedy in San Diego, several patterns have emerged: The shooters were often bullied. Many told classmates about their plans ahead of time. And - as in the case of alleged 15-year-old shooter Andy Williams - the vast majority got their guns from their own homes or that of a relative.
Accidental Child Deaths Most Likely to Happen at Home
This article introduces new research that shows children are more likely to die from an accidental injury that they sustain in their own homes than any other place. The study points out that child deaths caused by unintentional injuries at home occur far more often, and most could have been prevented with adequate safety measures and supervision.
Americans for Gun Safety
Americans for Gun Safety has produced a web site that offers background information on guns, gun laws in each state, an extensive gun glossary, a count of gun deaths per state, and possible solutions for the gun death epidemic. Americans for Gun Safety is a centrist, non-partisan national group dedicated to the advancement of gun safety.
Pediatrics (Journal of AAP) 107:1247-1250, 6/1/2001
Boys, in Study, Find and Handle Guns; One in Four Pull Trigger
This study, entitled "Seeing Is Believing: What Do Boys Do When They Find a Real Gun?" shows that most young boys who discover a concealed firearm are likely to handle it and even pull the trigger, regardless of what they are taught about gun safety at home or if the gun is real or a toy.
Authors: Jackman, Farah (Children's Hospital of Philadelphia), Kellermann, and Simon (Emory University School of Medicine and Center for Injury Control).
Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine 153:586-590, 6/1/1999
Firearm Storage Practices and Children in the Home, United States, 1994
This study sets out to estimate the national prevalence of firearm ownership and storage practices in the home, to compare storage practices in homes with and without children, and to analyze demographic characteristics related to firearm storage practices in homes with children.
Authors: Stennies (National Center for Infectious Diseases), Ikeda, Leadbetter, Houston, and Sacks (National Center for Injury Prevention and Control).
Legal Community Against Violence
Firearms Law Center
The Firearms Law Center is an organization that serves communities nationwide by providing information and resources relating to the regulation of firearms at the federal, state, and local levels.
Stop The Violence, Face the Music, 1/17/2001
Get Unloaded Gun Safety and Education Campaign
The Get Unloaded Gun Safety and Education Campaign has been created by Stop the Violence, Face the Music and the Safety Ape to promote a Public Service Advertising Campaign utilizing radio, television, billboards, and print advertisements. The organization deals with gun safety.
Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers' Institute (SAAMI)
Glossary of Gun Terminology
This list provides definitions for most terms used when discussing firearms.
Journal of the American Medical Association 283:1193-1195 (free registration required), 3/1/2000
Gun Carrying and Homicide Prevention
This article summarizes recent research on the connection between various laws and gun use, including the effect of concealment laws.
Author: Sherman (University of Pennsylvania Department of Sociology and Fels Center of Government).
Police Department of Mesa, Arizona
Gun Safety: A Parent's Guide
The city of Mesa, Arizona's police department has created a web page dedicated to parents and the responsibility they have to protect their children from gun danger. The website offers ideas on how to speak to kids, as well as basic safety instructions when handling a gun.
Gun Storage Practices and the Risk of Youth Suicide and Unintentional Injuries
This study found that the risk of youth suicide is increased with the presence of a firearm in the house. The risk of unintentional firearm injuries is also significantly increased when a gun is accessible in the home. In order to prevent these injuries, it is recommended that certain safety precautions be taken. This study shows how these precautions decrease the risk of injury and death.
Annals of Emergency Medicine (Journal of the American College of Emergency Physicians) 41:771-783, 6/2/2003
Guns in Home Endanger Household Members, Study Says
This study, "Homicide and Suicide Risks Associated With Firearms in the Home: A National Case-Control Study," found that people in households with guns are almost twice as likely to be victims of gun homicide than people in households without guns. Furthermore, people were 16 times more likely to commit suicide with a gun if one is present in the home.
Author: Wiebe (UCLA School of Public Health Violence Prevention Research Group and Firearm Injury Center at Penn).
Boston Parents' Paper, 8/1/1999
Guns in Your Homes and Others (excerpt)
Read what a Boston parents magazine says about talking to your kids about gun safety and safely storing firearms and ammunition.
Keeping Guns Out of Kids' Hands
Would you ever think of asking the parents of your child’s best friend if they have a gun in their house? It’s something you ought to know, because there’s a gun in two out of every five American households. And in 20 percent of those households, the guns are kept unlocked and loaded.
LOK IT UP
This website also spreads the message of locking up firearms, with special focus on the handgun lockbox.
The Christian Science Monitor, 5/26/1999
Parent-to-Parent: Is the Gun Safely Stored?
In the wake of recent school shootings, Jody Pawel is advising and encouraging parents on how to talk to one another about guns at home.
The Harris Poll 25, 5/30/2001
Poll Shows Two in Five Americans Live in Gun-Owning Households
Among its findings, the most recent Harris Poll concluded that two in every five adults (39%) live in households where one or more guns are owned and that gun ownership is more prevalent among the affluent, republicans and in the south.
Author: Taylor (The Harris Poll, Harris Interactive).
ABC News, 3/9/2000
Poll: 75 Percent Think Parents Responsible for Child’s Gun Use
An overwhelming majority of Americans say parents should be charged with a crime if their child uses their gun to shoot someone. 75 percent say parents should be prosecuted for failing to keep the firearm out of their child’s hands.
Author: Fuller (ABC News).
Reuters Health/Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 12/21/1999
Restricting Access to Guns May Be the Most Efficient Way to Help Prevent Suicide in Adolescents Under 16
Researchers suggest that restricting access to guns may be the most efficient way to help prevent suicide in adolescents under 16, as psychiatric problems appear to play less of a role in this younger age group, according to a report in the December issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine 153:875-878, 8/1/1999
Self-inflicted and Unintentional Firearm Injuries Among Children and Adolescents
Examining firearm ownership in 98 cases over five years of youths aged 0-19 years who sought medical treatment for a self-inflicted or unintentional firearm injury or who presented to the county medical examiner with a fatal self- inflicted or unintentional firearm injury. The study concludes that more than 75% of the guns used in suicide attempts and unintentional injuries were stored in the residence of the victim, a relative, or a friend. (Grossman, Reay, and Baker, Harborview Injury Prevention Center.)
Connect for Kids, 4/3/2000
Spotlight on Guns
Pediatricians Strengthen Call for Removing Guns from Homes . . . Child Welfare League Reports on Children and Guns . . . Guns Exempt from Product Safety Oversight . . . Tips for Parents
Stop Our Shootings
Stop Our Shootings is an organization dedicated to educating adults and children in schools and homes about the dangers of playing with guns. They promote awareness about the dangerous combination of kids and guns through local and national media.
Pediatrics (Journal of AAP) 106:e31, 10/1/2000
Study Shows that Moms Are Unaware of Guns in House and How They Are Stored
Researchers report that among American households with children, fathers are much more likely to own a gun than mothers--and that mothers are unaware if their husbands' guns are safely stored unloaded and locked. Among the households with guns, the investigators found that 60% of the adults surveyed said they themselves owned the a gun while 40% said that the gun did not personally belong to them--with over 85% of the non-gun owners being women. (Azrael, Miller, and Hemenway, Harvard School of Public Health.)
ABC News Primetime
The Lure of a Gun: Why Can't Kids Resist?
An ABC PrimeTime experiment showed that many teenagers, including those who had recently received warnings to stay away from guns, played with a gun, aimed it at other teens, and agonized over whether to tell an adult. The experiment suggests what some clinical studies have shown: Teenagers who claim to understand the danger of guns and say they would do the right thing if they found one are in fact so seduced by the sight of a gun that they cannot resist the urge to touch it.
Please note: Common Sense and its endorsing organizations do not necessarily endorse all content stemming from the links provided in this page. All resources in these web pages are provided for information purposes only and should not be construed as professional advice. Advice and opinions on mental health and other medical issues should be obtained through consultation with a licensed and trained professional.
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