What is Secure Firearm Storage?
Experts agree: In order to prevent access, secure gun storage practices should include three methods employed in combination—unloading the ammunition, locking the firearm, and storing the firearm and ammunition in separate locations.2United States Government Accountability Office (GAO). Report to congressional requesters. Personal firearms: programs that promote safe storage and research on their effectiveness. September 2017. https://bit.ly/2Xk1yeG.
Gun owners should remove all ammunition from the firearm, including removing any chambered rounds
Unloaded firearms should be secured with a firearm locking device, such as a jacket lock, or in a locked location, like a safe or lock box. Locking devices, safes, and lock boxes are equipped with keys, combinations, or biometric technology that limit access. Remember: Firearm locks do not prevent gun theft.
Ammunition should be stored separately from the firearm in a secure location.
Access to unsecured firearms contributes to gun violence among children and teens. Brayden’s tragic story is all too common. Every year, nearly 350 children under the age of 18 unintentionally shoot themselves or someone else.4Everytown for Gun Safety. #NotAnAccident Index. 2020. Everytown tracks unintentional shootings by children that result in death or injury. Everytown researchers continually review media reports to identify shootings in which a person age 17 or under unintentionally fires a gun and harms themselves or someone else. For each identified incident, the researchers review available public records and, when necessary, follow up with local law enforcement to ascertain details about the incident, including location, type of firearm, and method of storage. Analysis includes incidents that occurred between 2015 and 2019. For more information on unintentional shootings by children, see: everytownresearch.org/notanaccident. That’s roughly one unintentional shooting per day, and 70 percent of these incidents take place inside a home.5Everytown for Gun Safety. #NotAnAccident Index. 2020. Analysis includes homes of the shooter, the victim, relatives’ homes, friends’ homes, and “other” homes. Another 700 children die by gun suicide each year,6Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. WONDER Online Database, Underlying Cause of Death. A yearly average was developed using five years of most recent available data: 2015 to 2019. Children defined as aged 0 to 17. most often using guns belonging to a family member.7Johnson RM, Barber C, Azrael D, Clark DE, Hemenway D. Who are the owners of firearms used in adolescent suicides? Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior. 2010;40(6):609-611. Study defined children as under the age of 18. Over 80 percent of children who died by gun suicide used a gun belonging to a family member. Unsecured firearms also fuel gun violence outside the home. In incidents of gun violence on school grounds, up to 80 percent of shooters under the age of 18 obtained their guns from their own home, a relative’s home, or from friends.8Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund. Keeping Our Schools Safe: A Plan for Preventing Mass Shootings and Ending All Gun Violence in American Schools. https://everytownresearch.org/school-safety-plan. February 2020.
We are all safer when guns are stored unloaded, locked, and separate from ammunition. One study found that households that locked both firearms and ammunition were associated with a 78 percent lower risk of self-inflicted firearm injuries and an 85 percent lower risk of unintentional firearm injuries among children, compared to those that locked neither.9Grossman DC, Mueller BA, Riedy C, et al. Gun storage practices and risk of youth suicide and unintentional firearm injuries. Journal of the American Medical Association. 2005;293(6):707-714. Another study estimated that if half of households with children that contain at least one unlocked gun switched to locking all their guns, one-third of youth gun suicides and unintentional deaths could be prevented, saving an estimated 251 lives in a single year.10Monuteaux MC, Azrael D, Miller M. Association of increased safe household firearm storage with firearm suicide and unintentional death among US youths. JAMA Pediatrics. 2019;173(7):657-662.
Despite the risks to safety, the majority of gun owners do not practice secure gun storage. While millions of responsible gun owners follow recommended storage practices, an estimated 54 percent do not lock all of their guns, let alone store them unloaded, locked, and separate from ammunition.11Crifasi CK, Doucette ML, McGinty EE, Webster DW, Barry CL. Storage practices of US gun owners in 2016. American Journal of Public Health. 2018;108(4):532-537. Gun owners with children in the home are slightly more likely to lock all of their guns,12Ibid. but an estimated 5.4 million American children live in households with at least one unlocked and loaded firearm.13Personal communication from Deborah Azrael and Matthew Miller to Everytown based on 2021 National Firearms Survey, August 11, 2021
1/3 of youth suicides and unintentional deaths are prevented by securing guns.
Contrary to popular belief, gun storage devices do not prevent owners from readily accessing their guns. There is a common myth that storage devices negate the self-defense purpose of owning a gun by putting time-consuming barriers between the gun owner and their means of defense.14Lott JR, Whitley JE. Safe‐storage gun laws: accidental deaths, suicides, and crime. Journal of Law & Economics. 2001;44(S2):659-689. The reality is that there are many affordable options for secure gun storage that provide owners with access to guns in a matter of seconds while still preventing access by children and people at increased risk of harming themselves or others.15Hung E. 4 best bedside pistol gun safes for quick access. Pew Pew Tactical. January 23, 2019. https://bit.ly/2Rb2DiI. Further, it is possible that unsecured guns may actually increase the likelihood of crime and violence through an increased risk of gun theft.16Everytown for Gun Safety. Stolen Guns Pose a Tremendous Risk to Public Safety. everytownresearch.org/stolen-guns. March 2019. Each year, an estimated 200,000 to 500,000 guns are stolen,17For more information on stolen guns, see: everytownresearch.org/stolen-guns. The exact number of firearms stolen is difficult to determine because many stolen guns are not reported to law enforcement. Estimates included in this range are derived from the following sources: Langton L. Firearms stolen during household burglaries and other property crimes, 2005–2010. US Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. 2012. https://bit.ly/2D9ujOd; US Department of Justice, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. 2012 Summary: Firearms reported lost and stolen. https://bit.ly/2D5qVnM; Cook PJ, Ludwig J. Guns in America: results of a comprehensive national survey on firearms ownership and use. Police Foundation. 1996. and many are funneled into the underground market, where once-legally-owned firearms can be transferred to people with dangerous histories.18Everytown for Gun Safety. Stolen Guns Pose a Tremendous Risk to Public Safety. everytownresearch.org/stolen-guns. March 2019.
Why Do Safety Regulations for Pool Owners Far Exceed Those for Gun Owners?
American children are twice as likely to be shot and killed as they are to die by drowning.19Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. WONDER Online Database, Underlying Cause of Death. Data from 2019. Children defined as ages 1 to 17. Deaths by drowning include deaths that occur in other bodies of water in addition to pools. Yet safety regulations for pools are far more pervasive and restrictive than those for guns.
The majority of states require that private pool owners use fences or locked gates to prevent drownings or other accidents.20These regulations vary by state and include both building codes and state statutes. Only six states (and DC) have laws mandating that gun owners store their firearms securely.21CA, DC, MA, MN, NV, NY, VA.
Leading Causes of Death for Children 1-17 in 2019
Regulations for Pool Owners in Arizona
In Arizona, for example, pool owners must adhere to safety regulations regarding barriers and gates to prevent access. There are no safety regulations for gun owners in Arizona.
Current Policy and Program Landscape
Various laws and public awareness programs are in place throughout the country to promote secure gun storage and provide incentives for gun owners to follow recommended storage practices.
There is no federal law requiring secure storage by gun owners. Federal law requires gun dealers to provide a secure gun storage or gun safety device with the sale of every handgun.2218 USC. § 922(z)(1); 18 USC. § 921(a)(34). A “secure gun storage or safety device” is defined as: (A) a device that, when installed on a firearm, is designed to prevent the firearm from being operated without first deactivating the device; (B) a device incorporated into the design of the firearm that is designed to prevent the operation of the firearm by anyone not having access to the device; or (C) a safe, gun safe, gun case, lock box, or other device that is designed to be or can be used to store a firearm and that is designed to be unlocked only by means of a key, a combination, or other similar means. However, the law does not require that gun owners actually use the device—or any other best practices—to secure their firearms.
State-level laws regarding firearm storage vary widely. The strongest state laws mandate that gun owners secure firearms when they are not in the owner’s possession. Other laws further encourage people to secure their firearms in order to keep them out of the hands of children or persons legally prohibited from having them.
Six states and the District of Columbia have laws mandating that owners secure their firearms.23CA, DC, MA, MN, NV, NY, VA. In addition, several cities, including New York City and San Francisco, have local firearm storage ordinances requiring gun owners to secure their firearms when they are not in their possession.24New York City Administrative Code 10-312; San Francisco Police Code 4512.
Fourteen states have passed another form of secure gun storage laws, known as child access prevention (CAP) laws.25CT, DE, FL, HI, IA, IL, MD, NC, NH, NJ, RI, TX, WA, WI. These laws vary by state but generally stipulate that if a minor accesses a firearm, the person who failed to adequately secure the firearm is liable. Four states have storage laws that are aimed at preventing access to firearms by persons legally prohibited from having guns.26CA, CT, DE, NY (limited to situations when a person resides with a person legally prohibited from having guns).
States with CAP laws saw an 8 percent decrease in overall suicide rates, and an 11 percent decrease in firearm suicide rates, among adolescents aged 14 to 17.
Public Awareness and Community Actions
Across the country, lawmakers, community members, and local leaders are working together to promote public awareness campaigns about gun storage—such as Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America’s Be SMART program—that encourage secure gun storage practices and highlight the public safety risks of unsecured guns and the role of guns in suicide.27For more information on Be SMART, see: besmartforkids.org/.
The Utah Suicide Prevention Coalition and the Utah Shooting Sports Council recognized their shared interest in preventing firearm suicide in their state and joined together to raise awareness.28Utah Suicide Prevention Coalition. Firearms Safety—Teen Suicide. https://bit.ly/2JEdBsl. To deliver their message directly to gun owners, they incorporated a public service announcement about guns and suicide into mandatory training sessions for concealed-carry permits.29Barber C. Pushing on an open door: gun owners groups & suicide prevention. Harvard School of Public Health. 2017. https://bit.ly/2KjUQyE.
Additionally, in New Hampshire, a coalition of researchers, gun owners, and gun dealers worked together to increase awareness of firearm suicide at a unique intervention point: when the individual enters the gun shop. Known as the Gun Shop Project, this campaign provided educational materials, including posters, brochures, and cards, to all the gun shops in the state.30Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Gun Shop Project. https://bit.ly/2c4QKah. The project has now been adopted in 11 states.31Ibid.
Gun owners understand that with rights comes responsibility, and promoting secure firearm storage is integral to public safety. Lawmakers and community members should work together to encourage recommended firearm storage practices through a combination of requirements and incentives for gun owners.
Federal law should be expanded to include a firearm storage law. States—and where permissible, cities—should enact new firearm storage laws and strengthen existing ones. These laws are demonstrably effective at increasing secure firearm storage and decreasing gun deaths.
Community members and local leaders should encourage secure gun storage through outreach to gun owners and general public awareness campaigns. Researchers, clinicians, and gun owners should work together to develop messaging and recommend storage options that are relevant to local values and context.32Barber C, Azrael D, Berrigan J, Miller M, Sobelson M, Hemenway D. Suicide and firearm injury in Utah: linking data to save lives. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. October 2018. https://bit.ly/2HP2kG3.
Everytown Research & Policy is a program of Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, an independent, non-partisan organization dedicated to understanding and reducing gun violence. Everytown Research & Policy works to do so by conducting methodologically rigorous research, supporting evidence-based policies, and communicating this knowledge to the American public.