Firearms are present in about one-third of US households with children. Despite the fact that most gun owners believe that younger children are more likely to be harmed by these unattended guns, in reality teenagers are more likely to be the victims of firearm injuries and suicides. Studies in the past six years suggest that parents of teenagers are more likely to report storing guns in an unsafe manner (ie, loaded and/or unlocked) than parents of younger children.

The August 2006 Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine reports on a study to confirm storage practices and how they vary with the age of the children in the home.

About the Study

In 2004, The National Firearms Study was conducted by a team of researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston. They randomly surveyed adults nationwide, selecting respondents who had at least one child younger than 18 years living with them and kept a firearm in the home. The number of interviews in each state was proportional to that state’s percentage of total US population. The researchers recorded information regarding firearm attitudes, beliefs, ownership and storage methods, as well as family demographics.

The results were consistent with previous findings. About 22% of all parents reported storing a loaded gun, 32% stored an unlocked gun, and 8% stored a gun both unlocked and loaded. Furthermore, nearly 42% of the households in which all youth were teenagers, reported storing an unlocked gun, versus about 29% of parents whose children were all under age 13. For loaded gun storage, the figures were 26% versus 20%, respectively. And for both unlocked and loaded storage, it was 10% versus 8%, respectively.

The study was limited because it excluded those who could not speak English and relied on the respondent’s ability to correctly recall how they stored firearms in the home.

How Does This Affect You?

With the prevalence of guns in American homes, safe firearm storage practices are critical, especially in households with teenagers. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Society for Adolescent Medicine strongly recommend that parents make certain that guns are kept both unloaded and locked up, no matter what the age of the children. This will offer protection against suicide and injury, as suggested by other studies. Going forward, the authors recommend that more effort be placed on reaching parents of teenagers, in particular.