Loaded, Unlocked Guns Common in American Homes, Study Finds

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Key Takeaways

  • Too many U.S. households contain a loaded gun that is not securely stored

  • Children who could easily access the firearm are present in many of these homes

  • More must be done to educate gun owners about the risks of unsecured guns at home

FRIDAY, June 14, 2024 (HealthDay News) -- In half of American homes containing a loaded gun, that gun is kept unsecured and ready for potential use, often with children in the home, new research shows.

The finding is especially troubling given the link between gun accessibility and accidental child deaths, as well as rising rates of gun-related suicides in the United States, researchers said.

"The presence of a firearm in the home has been associated with an increased risk for firearm homicide and suicide among household members," wrote a team of researchers led by Norah Friar. She's an investigator with the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention's Division of Violence Prevention.

In the research, Friar's team used federal survey data to track rates of gun ownership and storage practices in households in eight states: Alaska, California, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio and Oklahoma.

They found widely varying rates of guns being kept in the home -- from 18.4% of households surveyed in California to about 39% in Oklahoma and more than half (50.6%) of homes in Alaska.

In most of the eight states surveyed, more than a third of homes that contained a gun also had children living in the home. In Alaska, that number rose to more than half.

Guns that are unloaded and securely locked away pose little threat to children. But that wasn't the case in many of the homes surveyed.

Among households that contained a gun, about 44% of owners in North Carolina said the gun was loaded, as did about 40% of homeowners in Oklahoma, New Mexico and Nevada, the study found.

Among households that contained at least one gun, rates of guns kept both loaded and unlocked ranged from almost 49% in Ohio to nearly 59% in Alaska, the study found.

In roughly 40% of those cases in Alaska, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Carolina and Oklahoma, a child was also living in the home.

Those are all tragedies waiting to happen, Friar's team said, since "previous research has demonstrated that most fatal unintentional firearm deaths among children and adolescents aged 1–17 years occur in a house or apartment, and that the firearms used were often stored loaded and unlocked and were discharged during play or when showing the firearm to someone else."

Even in the absence of children, the presence of a gun in the home is a known risk factor for suicide or homicide, the researchers added.

The findings were published June 13 in the CDC journal Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Why do so many Americans keep a firearm at home, often loaded and insecurely stored?

"One national survey of firearm owners found that concern about home defense was selected by 43% of respondents as a factor influencing gun storage," the researchers noted.

Friar's team believes that more must be done to educate people about proper gun storage, to "decrease the risk for firearm-related injuries and deaths among persons with a firearm in the home, particularly children and youths."

More information

Find out more about safe gun storage at the American Academy of Pediatrics.

SOURCE: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, June 13, 2024

What This Means For You

If you have a gun in your home, keeping it unlocked and safely stored can prevent senseless tragedies.

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