Expert Commentary

Research roundup: Who stores guns safely?

Safe gun storage can limit unauthorized users’ access to firearms. This roundup features recent research on the topic.

gun with bullets

Households with guns have a higher likelihood of gun injury, including homicide and suicide. Research indicates that around 7 percent of children in the United States live in homes with at least one loaded, unlocked firearm, which is more than twice as high as a previous estimate from 2002. Safe storage is one strategy that can limit unauthorized users’ access to firearms.

This roundup features research that puts numbers to firearm storage trends in the U.S. Some of this research highlights specific characteristics associated with safe gun storage. Safe gun storage includes securing guns in a locked safe or cabinet and using safety devices like trigger or cable locks.

A few studies also touch on potential strategies to promote safe gun storage, identifying partners for communicating safe storage practices, considering the feasibility of temporary storage at gun retailers and evaluating the success of prior interventions, such as the distribution of free gun locks.

Firearm Storage in Gun-Owning Households with Children: Results of a 2015 National Survey
Azrael, Deborah; et al. Journal of Urban Health, 2018. doi: 10.1007/s11524-018-0261-7.

This study looks at data from a nationally representative survey of 3,949 U.S. adults to better understand gun ownership and storage practices in households with children.


  • “Approximately 7 percent of US children (4.6 million) live in homes in which at least one firearm is stored loaded and unlocked, an estimate that is more than twice as high as estimates reported in 2002, the last time a nationally representative survey assessed this outcome.”
  • “Among gun-owning households with children, approximately two in ten gun owners store at least one gun in the least safe manner, i.e., loaded and unlocked.”
  • “Three in ten store all guns in the safest manner, i.e., unloaded and locked.”
  • “The remaining half store firearms in some other way.”
  • “Although firearm storage practices do not appear to vary across some demographic characteristics, including age, sex, and race, gun owners are more likely to store at least one gun loaded and unlocked if they are female vs. male; own at least one handgun vs. no handguns; or own firearms for protection vs. do not own for protection.”

Storage Practices of US Gun Owners in 2016
Crifasi, Cassandra K.; et al. American Journal of Public Health, 2018. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2017.304262.

This study looks at nationally representative survey data from 1,444 U.S. gun owners about storage practices and factors associated with safe storage. The authors define safe storage practices as all guns being “stored in a locked gun safe, cabinet, or case; locked into a gun rack; or stored with a trigger lock or other lock.”


  • “Forty-six percent of gun owners reported safely storing all of their guns.”
  • “Factors associated with higher odds of reporting safe storage were having a child in the home … only owning handguns … and reporting that storage decisions were influenced by a gun safety course … or discussions with family members.”
  • “Gun owners ranked law enforcement, hunting or outdoors groups, active-duty military, and the National Rifle Association as most effective in communicating safe storage practices.” Physicians and celebrities were viewed as least effective.

Who Owns Guns and How Do They Keep Them? The Influence of Household Characteristics on Firearms Ownership and Storage Practices in the United States
Hamilton, David; et al. Preventive Medicine, 2018. doi: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2018.07.013.

Looking at data collected nationally through the federally-sponsored 2004 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey, which has a sample size of 293,992, this paper looks at the demographics associated with gun ownership and safe storage practices.


  • “Close to one-third (32.6 percent) of all U.S. households reported owning a gun in 2004. More than one in five (22.3 percent) gun-owning households kept at least one of their guns loaded. Of those, three-fifths (60.7 percent) stored their loaded weapons unlocked. Altogether, one in 14 American households (7.3 percent) had a loaded firearm in or around their homes, and nearly one in 20 (4.4 percent) lived with a gun that was unsecured.”
  • Men are more likely to own guns than women, and veterans are more likely to own guns than civilians. There was not much difference in gun ownership between households with children and those without.
  • Gun-owning households with children are less likely to leave a loaded gun unsecured than those without children.
  • Women are more likely than men to store their guns safely, and veterans are more likely than non-veterans to store their weapons unsafely.
  • Married people are more likely to store guns safely than unmarried people, but they are also more likely to have guns than unmarried people.

Associations between Active Shooter Incidents and Gun Ownership and Storage among Families with Young Children in the United States
Morrissey, Taryn W. Preventive Medicine, 2017. doi: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2017.04.002.

How does an active shooter incident affect gun ownership and storage practices in the state in which it occurred? This study attempts to answer this question, using data from a longitudinal, interview-based study that followed a baseline sample of 10,700 children from 2001 to 2008, as well as information on active shooter incidents from a 2013 report.


  • “The lone statistically significant finding is that those interviewed in the 2 months following an active shooter incident anywhere in the country were 23 percentage points more likely to lock their guns than those interviewed in the 2 months prior.”
  • When the analysis factored in the severity of the shooting, “the experience of an active shooter incident in the prior month anywhere in the U.S. was associated with an 18 percentage point increase in storing guns locked.”
  • “Further, each fatality at the shooting event increased the likelihood of storing guns locked by 11 and 79 percentage points depending on whether the event had occurred anywhere in the U.S. or within the same state.”

Effectiveness of Interventions to Promote Safe Firearm Storage
Rowhani-Rahbar, Ali; et al. Epidemiologic Reviews, 2016. doi: 10.1093/epirev/mxv006.

This paper reviews seven studies published between 2000 and 2012 that tested various interventions intended to promote safe gun storage practices.


  • The three studies that provided gun owners with a free gun lock found that strategy was linked to significant improvements in safe storage practices.
  • The four studies that focused on other types of interventions found them less successful. Though two out of these four studies offered an economic incentive for purchasing a safe storage device, they didn’t improve storage practices. The only study that saw a significant improvement in storage practices involved office-based verbal counseling by family physicians.

Firearm Storage in Homes with Children with Self-Harm Risk Factors
Scott, John; et al. Pediatrics, 2018. doi: 10.1542/peds.2017-2600.

Do gun storage practices differ in homes where children have self-harm risk factors, such as depression, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and other mental health conditions? This study compares survey data from a nationally representative sample of 3,949 U.S. adults.


  • Firearm ownership was roughly the same regardless of whether or not children in the home had a history of self-harm risk factors. Among homes where children had a history of self-harm risk factors, 43.5 percent had a firearm present. Meanwhile, 42.3 percent of the homes in which no child had self-harm risk factors had firearms.
  • Homes where kids had a history of self-harm risk factors practiced safe gun storage at a slightly higher level compared with households with children who didn’t have self-harm risk factors – 34.9 percent compared to 31.8 percent.

Firearm Storage Practices Among American Veterans
Simonetti, Joseph A.; et al. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 2018. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2018.04.014.

Veterans are at a higher risk of suicide than civilian adults. Limiting access to lethal, commonly used methods of suicide (e.g., firearms) is one component of suicide prevention. This study attempts to inform potential suicide prevention initiatives among veterans by analyzing survey responses from veterans as to gun storage practices and how they’re correlated with specific ownership characteristics.


  • Of the 1,044 veterans surveyed, 44.9 percent were firearm owners.
  • “One in three Veteran firearm owners stores at least one firearm loaded and unlocked.”
  • Male veterans were more likely to store at least one firearm loaded and unlocked compared to female veterans. Veterans with children in the house were also less likely to have a loaded and unlocked gun than those without.

Gun Retailers as Storage Partners for Suicide Prevention: What Barriers Need to be Overcome?
Pierpont, Lauren A.; et al. Injury Prevention, 2018. doi: 10.1136/injuryprev-2017-042700.

Gun retailers could offer temporary firearm storage to get firearms out of the house when someone is at risk of attempting suicide. This study asked gun retailers about their perceptions of the obstacles to providing temporary safe gun storage.


  • Over half of the 95 retailers who responded to the questionnaire thought federal laws make it harder to offer temporary storage.
  • Twenty-five percent thought state laws were an obstacle.
  • Over 60 percent said legal liability in storing and returning guns was a barrier.
  • Other obstacles were cost, space and logistical issues.

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