Hopkins researchers find most gun owners aren’t safely storing their firearms

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An empty gun safe. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

A team of researchers from the Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health found in a new survey that more than half of America’s gun owners aren’t locking their weapons away when not using them.

Only 46 percent of gun owners stow their firearms in safes, cabinets, cases or racks, or even lock the triggers, according to Bloomberg School-led survey of more than 1,400 U.S. gun owners. That share was higher—55 percent—for firearm owners who have children under 18 years old in their home.

Assistant professor (and self-identified gun owner) Cassandra Crifasi, who led four other researchers in the study, told Baltimore Fishbowl the findings are indicative of a “public health emergency.”

“The most important finding that really stood out for me is the fact that there are so many children in homes with guns that aren’t being stored safely,” she said. “I’m a parent, I’m a gun owner. Those things are so sensitive together. Children are curious, and the risk of unintentional shootings is so high, as well as suicide, among adolescents.”

A separate study published in the journal Pediatrics last summer found 1,300 children died and nearly 5,800 were wounded annually by guns from 2012 to 2014.

The newer Hopkins-led study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, also looked into what motivates gun owners to decide whether or not to store their firearms.

Forty-three percent cited concerns about “home defense,” 35 percent mentioned taking a gun safety training course and 30 percent cited family discussions.

But a divide emerged: Gun owners who mentioned safety-training courses as an influencing factor were twice as likely to safely store their firearms, and those who mentioned family talks were 39 percent more likely. In contrast, respondents who cited defending their homes as a motivating factor were 30 percent less likely.

Crifasi said there’s a “misperception” among gun owners who cite home defense as a reason not to store their guns in lock boxes or safes, “so that you’re able to access them quickly if you need them.” She noted she and her husband use easily accessible safes to store their weapons: “It takes just a matter of seconds to open.”

Crifasi worked with co-authors Mitchell Doucette, Emma McGinty, Daniel Webster and Colleen Barry on the study, which was based on data from a month-long online survey conducted by GfK Knowledge Networks in March and April of 2016. The Bloomberg School says their study is the first of its kind in 15 years.

All but Doucette are professors in the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research. Their work was funded by the Houston-based Simmons Foundation.

Maryland law bars gun owners from leaving their weapons where a child can access them, according to the pro-gun control Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

Crifasi said the new research isn’t even designed to modify existing laws. “This is really about recognizing the responsibilities that gun owners have to ensure their guns are stored safely, because that really can lead to reductions in gun violence and injury.”

Ethan McLeod
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