Gun storage in the home: Has it meaningfully become safer for kids?

Proper gun safety in the home prescribes locking firearms without ammunition. A report from 2015 found this wasn’t the case in many homes, leaving children vulnerable. A new report examines whether there’s been any change in household practices in the intervening years.

One of the most important ways to keep children safe from gun violence is for gun-owning adults to safely store their unloaded guns in a place where a child cannot reach. Unfortunately, many adults fail to do this, a 2015 report found that 21% of households with guns left them loaded and not secured.1 A new investigation that updates that report examines whether this had changed in 2021, which was marked by a surge in gun purchases.2

The investigators conducted a survey, using a nationally representative sample that had been recruited via address sampling methods. Those surveyed were asked whether they or another member of their household personally owned a working gun. Participants who said that they did own firearms were asked whether they kept stored guns loaded; if they kept their guns unlocked; and if they kept their firearms both unlocked and loaded.

A total of 19,049 adults responded to the survey, with 33.3% living in a household that had at least 1 child aged younger than 18 years. In all households with children, 40.4% said that someone in the home owned at least 1 gun; 29.3% were the owner of the firearm and 11.1% just lived in a home with a gun. The average number of children (1.9) living in a home with a firearm was roughly the same as those (1.8) living in households that didn’t have a firearm. The typical characteristics of the surveyed gun owners were male, White, married, lived in either a suburban or rural area, and had attended some college. In the households with guns, 36.1% had unlocked firearms and 37.1% had loaded firearms. Fifteen percent stored at least 1 gun both loaded and unlocked whereas 44.1% kept all firearms unloaded and locked.

The investigators extrapolated that in 2021 roughly 7 million more children are living in a house with a firearm than were doing so in their previous study in 2015. They did find that gun owners who had children were more likely to store their firearms unlocked and unloaded than they had in 2015. However, they believe that the increase in households with guns means that even with increasing number of homes practicing safe gun storage, the number of children living with loaded and unlocked firearms is not that different from the number reported in 2015: 4.6 million.

References

1. Azrael D, Cohen J, Salhi C, Miller M. Firearm storage in gun-owning households with children: results of a 2015 national survey. J Urban Health. 2018;95(3):295-304. doi:10.1007/s11524-018-0261-7

2. Miller M, Azrael D. Firearm storage in US households with children: findings from the 2021 national firearm survey. JAMA Netw Open. 2022;5(2):e2148823. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.48823