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Safe and Secure Gun Storage

When not in use, firearms should be stored locked and unloaded, ammunition should be stored separately (preferably locked up), and the key or lock combinations should be inaccessible to children, adolescents, and those at elevated risk of harm to self or others. 

The Issue 

More than half of all U.S. gun owners store firearms unlocked. Responsible gun ownership is not only about how, where, and when a person uses their firearm; it’s also about how they store it when not in use. 

Suicide: Far too often someone in crisis gains access to a family member’s firearm that is left unlocked. Suicide is a public health crisis and firearms are the most lethal suicide method. The gun suicide rate has steadily increased, nearly uninterrupted, since 2006.  

Theft: Hundreds of thousands of guns are stolen from homes and cars each year, helping to fuel high rates of gun violence across the country, disproportionately impacting communities of color.  

Unintentional shootings: Access to unsecured firearms increases the risk of unintentional injury and death by firearm. Children are often impacted by unintentional firearm injuries by gaining access to an unsecured firearm owned by a parent.  

The Solutions

If a person has guns in the home, it is important to always practice safe and secure firearm storage when not in use. Safe and secure are complementary components: safe means unloaded and secure means locked up in a secure place such as a gun safe or lock box. The key or lock combination should only be accessible to authorized users.

Safely storing firearms can reduce gun injuries and deaths, and is supported by researchers, healthcare professionals, and gun owners alike. Research has demonstrated a decreased risk for suicide among adolescents when guns are stored safely. Safe and secure storage practices also help prevent guns from being stolen, diverted into illegal markets and used in gun crime.  Gun owners have a responsibility to store their guns safely, wherever they may take them, to prevent these thefts. 

Image of lock, ammunition, key and home with text: Store firearms unloaded and locked, store and lock ammunition separately from firearms, ensure the key and/or combination is inaccessible to the person in crisis, temorarirly remove firearms from your home
Secure Storage Laws

Require gun owners to lock their firearms when not in use. The strongest laws require a firearm to be stored locked, unloaded, and separated from ammunition anytime it is not in the owner’s immediate control. 

Child Access Prevention Laws

Child Access Prevention laws impose criminal liability on adults if a child gains access to an unsecured firearm or the gun is stored in a manner where a child is likely to gain access to it. 

Behavioral Interventions

Educational campaigns can promote safe and secure storage practices and save lives. Healthcare professionals have an opportunity to engage collaboratively with at-risk patients and their families to help prevent gun injuries and deaths. Lethal means safety counseling is an evidence-based healthcare intervention that can be used to help prevent suicides, homicides, and unintentional gun deaths, as well as nonfatal firearm injuries. 

Voluntary Temporary Gun Storage

When a household member or gun owner is at increased risk for suicide or harm to others, storing firearms in a secure location outside the home is the safest option. Many states have created maps to ensure residents can find a safe place to store their firearms during times of crisis. 


Safe Storage in Practice

In this video, Meghan McGinty, PhD '16, MPH/MBA '08, Associate in the Department of Health Policy and Management, interviews Cassandra Crifasi, PhD '14, MPH, Co-Director of the Center for Gun Violence Solutions in her home in Annapolis, MD.

The Evidence

Firearm Theft

There are an estimated 250,000 gun theft incidents each year resulting in about 380,000 guns stolen annually. 2

  • An estimated 82% of adolescent firearm suicides involve a gun belonging to a family member.3

  • 80% of school shooters under 18 access a firearm from their own home or that of a relative or friend.4

Policy Interventions

Multiple studies, including studies from our Center, have found that Child Access Prevention laws are associated with statistically significant reductions in teen suicides and unintentional injuries among children.5,6,7

Behavioral Interventions

A systematic review of behavioral interventions to promote safe firearm storage found that behavioral interventions, like lethal means safety counseling, that also provided individuals with a gun safety device significantly improved safe storage practices.8

Safe Storage

More than half of all U.S. gun owners—including 55% of gun owners with children in the home—do not practice safe firearm storage.1

Our Work

Researchers and advocates at the Center have supported safe storage practices across the country. Center researchers have conducted public opinion polls over nearly a decade showing widespread support for these policies and have authored research examining the impact of Child Access Prevention laws on youth gun injuries and death. 

Safe gun storage saves lives. As a pediatric intensive care physician, I see children who are critically injured and even killed after gaining access to unsafely stored firearms. One in three children in the US lives in a home with a gun, and children know where guns are stored in their homes, even when parents think they don’t know. Keeping guns stored unloaded and locked prevents unauthorized users (such as children) from getting access to and then getting injured by firearms in their homes.  

Katherine Hoops, MD, MPH 
Assistant professor, Pediatric Critical Care Medicine, Johns Hopkins Medicine 


Storage Practices of U.S. Gun Owners

Our researchers conducted a nationally representative online survey of U.S. gun owners to assess gun storage practices and attitudes, factors influencing storage practices, and groups that might effectively communicate regarding safe storage. 

Journal Articles and Reports
  1. Crifasi CK, Doucette ML, McGinty EE, Webster DW & Barry CL. (2018). Storage practices of US gun owners in 2016. American Journal of Public Health. 

  1. Hemenway D, Azrael D, Miller M. (2017). Whose guns are stolen? The epidemiology of gun theft victims. Injury Epidemiology. 

  1. Johnson R, Barber C, Azrael D, Clark DE & Hemenway D. (2010). Who are the owners of firearms used in adolescent suicide? Suicide and Life Threatening Behavior. 

  1. Alathari L, et al. (2019) Protecting America’s schools: a U.S. Secret Service analysis of targeted school violence. U.S. Department of Homeland Security. 

  1. Kivisto AJ, Kivisto K L, Gurnell E, Phalen P & Ray B. (2021). Adolescent suicide, household firearm ownership, and the effects of child access prevention laws. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. 

  1. Webster DWVernick JS, ZeoliAM, & ManganelloJ.A (2004). Association between youth-focused firearm laws and youth suicides. Jama. 

  1. Webster DW,  Starnes M. (2000). Reexamining the association between child access prevention gun laws and unintentional shooting deaths of children. Pediatrics. 

  1. Rowhani-Rahbar A, Simonetti JA, Rivara FP. (2016). Effectiveness of interventions to promote safe firearm storage. Epidemiologic reviews.  

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