According to a recent analysis published in the Journal of Urban Health, an estimated 4.6 million American children reside in a household where at least one gun is kept 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 firearm storage practices.
Kids find guns and unintentionally shoot themselves or others with alarming regularity. Unsecured firearms are a also leading means of youth suicide. And, children often use guns from home to commit school shootings. It is estimated that as many as sixty five percent of school shooters use a gun owned by a relative.
The new numbers on kids and irresponsibly stored guns are the latest takeaways from the National Firearms Survey of 2015, the most comprehensive examination of U.S gun ownership in 20 years. Led by Deborah Azrael of Harvard and Matthew Miller of Northeastern University, the survey measured a dramatic shift in firearm preferences, away from rifles used for sport shooting or hunting and toward handguns owned for self-defense.
Overall, the new survey reports, more gun owners with children in their homes store all their guns unloaded and locked up (29 percent) than leave at least one firearm loaded and unsecured (21 percent). Azreal and Miller believe that some gun owners believe that it is more important to keep guns loaded and accessible for self defense than it is to store them responsibly. Households where respondents said they own at least one gun for self-defense were nearly 10 times more likely to leave a gun loaded and unlocked than those for whom firearms serve recreational purposes.
“The overall story that we see is rather than movement toward safer storage, we see movement away from safer storage and that is problematic,” Azrael says.