Statistics on Guns in the Home & Safe Storage

Posted on January 1, 2012

Having a gun in the home is associated with an increased risk of firearm homicide and firearm suicide, regardless of storage practice, type of gun, or number of guns in the home.1  Guns kept in the home are more likely to be involved in a fatal or nonfatal unintentional shooting, criminal assault or suicide attempt than to be used to injure or kill in self-defense.2  Rather than conferring protection, guns in the home are associated with an increased risk of homicide by a family member or intimate acquaintance.3

Research published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that living in a home where there are guns increased risk of homicide by 40 to 170% and the risk of suicide by 90 to 460%.4

The risk of dying from an unintentional gunshot injury is 3.7 times higher for adults living in homes with guns, with handguns in the home posing a particular threat.5

On a state-wide level, states with higher rates of household firearm ownership have been shown to have significantly higher homicide victimization rates.6

 

Unsafe storage practices are also a key contributor to gun violence death and injury, particularly among vulnerable populations like children.  A study published in the Journal of Pediatrics regarding adult firearm storage practices found that over 1.69 million American children and minors are living in homes with loaded and unlocked firearms.7  Another study similarly reported that “[o]f the homes with children and firearms, 55% were reported to have one or more firearms in an unlocked place,” and 43% reported keeping guns without a trigger lock in an unlocked place.8

Studies show that these unsecured weapons are frequently accessible to—and accessed by—young children, even when parents believe they are not.  73% of children aged nine and under reported knowing the location of their parents’ firearms and 36% admitted that they had handled the weapons, including many whose parents had reported their children did not know the location of their firearm.9  It is therefore unsurprising that 89% of accidental shooting deaths among children occur in the home and that most of these deaths occur when children are playing with an unsecured loaded gun in their parents’ absence.10

The presence of unlocked guns in the home increases the risk not only of accidental gun injuries but of intentional shootings as well. One study found that more than 75% of the guns used in youth suicide attempts and unintentional injuries were stored in the residence of the victim, a relative, or a friend.11

 

  1. Linda L. Dahlberg et al., Guns in the Home and Risk of a Violent Death in the Home: Findings from a National Study, 160 Am. J. Epidemiology 929, 929, 935 (2004). []
  2. Arthur L. Kellerman et al., Injuries and Deaths Due to Firearms in the Home, 45 J. Trauma 263, 263, 266 (1998). []
  3. Arthur L. Kellerman et al., Gun Ownership as a Risk Factor for Homicide in the Home, 329 New Eng. J. Med. 1084 (1993). []
  4. Garen J. Wintemute, Guns, Fear, the Constitution, and the Public’s Health, 358 New England J. Med. 1421-1424 (April 3, 2008), at http://content.nejm.org/cgi/content/full/NEJMp0800859.)) Another study in the Annals of Emergency Medicine similarly found that people who keep a gun in their home are almost twice as likely to die in a gun-related homicide and 16 times more likely to use a gun to commit suicide than people without a gun in their home. ((Douglas Wiebe, Homicide and Suicide Risks Associated with Firearms in the Home: A National Case-control Study, 41 Annals of Emergency Medicine 771 (June 2003). []
  5. Douglas J. Wiebe, Firearms in U.S. Homes as a Risk Factor for Unintentional Gunshot Fatality, 35 Accident Analysis & Prevention 711, 713-14 (2003). []
  6. Matthew Miller, David Hemenway, and Deborah Azrael, State-level Homicide Victimization Rates in the U.S. in Relation to Survey Measures of Household Firearm Ownership, 2001 -2003, 64 Soc. Sci. & Med. 656, 660 (2007). []
  7. Catherine A. Okoro et al., Prevalence of Household Firearms and Firearm-Storage Practices in the 50 States and the District of Columbia: Findings from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, 2002, 116 Pediatrics e370, e371-e372 (Sept. 2005), at http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/content/full/116/3/e370. []
  8. Mark A. Schuster et al., Firearm Storage Patterns in U.S. Homes with Children, 90 Am. J. Pub. Health 588, 590 (Apr. 2000).  Another study found that 29% of parents with children 12 years or younger and 42% of parents with children ages 13 to 17 kept an unlocked firearm in the home. Renee M. Johnson et al., Are Household Firearms Stored Less Safely in Homes with Adolescents, 160 ARCHIVES OF PEDIATRIC & ADOLESCENT MED. 788, 789 (2006). The same researcher found that at least a quarter of those households were found to store their firearms both unlocked and loaded. Renee Johnson, et al., Firearm Ownership and Storage Practices, U.S. Households, 1992-2002, 27 AM. J. PREVENTIVE MED. 173, 179 (2004). []
  9. Frances Baxley & Matthew Miller, Parental Misperceptions about Children and Firearms, 160 ARCHIVES OF PEDIATRIC & ADOLESCENT MED. 542, 544 (2006). []
  10. Guohua Li et al., Factors Associated with the Intent of Firearm-Related Injuries in Pediatric Trauma Patients, 150 ARCHIVES OF PEDIATRIC & ADOLESCENT MED. 1160, 1162 (1996). []
  11. David C. Grossman, Donald T. Reay & Stephanie A. Baker, Self-inflicted & Unintentional Firearm Injuries Among Children & Adolescents: The Source of the Firearm, 153 Archives Pediatric & Adolescent Med. 875, 875 (Aug. 1999), at http://archpedi.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/short/153/8/875.))

    Keeping a firearm unloaded and locked, with the ammunition stored in a locked location separate from the firearm, significantly decreases the risk of suicide and unintentional firearm injury and death involving both long guns and handguns. These safe storage measures serve as a “protective effect” and assist in reducing youth suicide and unintentional injury in homes with children and teenagers where guns are stored. ((David C. Grossman et al., Gun Storage Practices and Risk of Youth Suicide and Unintentional Firearm Injuries, 293 JAMA 707, 711-13 (Feb. 2005). []