THURSDAY, Feb. 22, 2018 (HealthDay News) -- With the deadly mass shooting at a Florida school once again putting U.S. gun violence in the spotlight, a new survey finds that more than half of American gun owners do not safely store all their firearms.
Safe storage means keeping guns in a locked gun safe, cabinet or case, locked into a gun rack or stored with a trigger lock or other lock, according to researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, who did the survey.
Their poll of 1,444 gun owners nationwide found that 54 percent did not store all their guns safely.
"The survey findings indicate a real public health emergency," said lead author Cassandra Crifasi, an assistant professor at the school's Center for Gun Policy and Research.
"Household gun ownership can increase the risk of homicides, suicide and unintentional shootings in the home, but practicing safe storage for all guns reduces these risks," Crifasi said in a Hopkins news release.
The survey was conducted in early 2016, and the findings were published Feb. 22 in the American Journal of Public Health.
Children were present in 34 percent of homes with guns, the survey found. When that was the case, gun owners were more likely to follow safe storage procedures. About 55 percent of these gun owners said they stored all their guns safely.
In 2016, the researchers noted, the deaths of 1,637 children were attributed to guns. Suicide accounted for 39 percent of those deaths. States with laws that require gun owners to ensure that children do not have unauthorized access to guns had fewer teen suicides.
Studies have also shown that safe gun storage is associated with a lower risk of self-inflicted gun injuries among teens, the researchers said.
Factors that influenced gun storage practices, according to the survey, included:
- Concerns about home defense.
- A gun safety training course.
- Family discussions.
Gun owners who said that a gun safety training course had influenced their gun storage practices were twice as likely to safely store all their guns.
"It's encouraging to see the positive associations between safety training and reporting safe storage practices," said study co-author Daniel Webster, director of Center for Gun Policy and Research.
"Requiring gun purchasers to take safety training classes, as a handful of states already do, might lead to more gun owners storing their guns safely," Webster said.
Those who said cited discussions with family members were 39 percent more likely to practice safe storage.
However, gun owners who said their gun storage decisions were influenced by concerns about home defense were 30 percent less likely to practice safe storage for all their firearms, the survey found.
"Many bring guns into their homes for self-defense, but unsecured guns can lead to unintentional shootings, suicides and tragic cases of troubled teens using guns to commit acts of violence," Crifasi said.
"Communicating with gun owners about the importance of safe storage is a challenging opportunity," she said. "If we are successful at improving storage practices among gun owners, particularly those with children in the home, we could reduce risks for gun violence and injury."
The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence has more on gun violence.