Safe and Secure Gun Storage
Safe and secure gun storage practices prevent those who can’t legally have guns, potential thieves, and individuals within the household including children and those at elevated risk for suicide or violence against others, from accessing guns. Safely storing firearms can reduce gun injuries and deaths, and is supported by researchers, healthcare professionals, and gun owners alike.
If a person has guns in the home, it is important to always practice safe and secure firearm storage when not in use. This means guns are unloaded and locked up in a secure place such as a gun safe or by using safety devices such as cable locks. The key or lock combination should only be accessible to authorized users.
Behavioral interventions, like educational campaigns, and policy interventions, like child access prevention laws, can promote safe storage practices and save lives. Research has demonstrated decreased risk for suicide among adolescents when guns are stored safely. States with child access prevention laws that require guns to be stored in a safe manner have lower rates of adolescent suicide. Safe and secure storage practices can also help to prevent unintentional gun injuries, homicides, and mass shootings.
Safe and secure storage practices also help prevent guns from being stolen, diverted into illegal markets and used in gun crime. 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. Gun owners have a responsibility to store their guns safely, wherever they may take them, to prevent these thefts.
Safe storage practices are especially vital when a household member or gun owner is at increased risk for suicide or harm to others. In these cases, storing firearms in a secure location outside the home is the safest option.
- 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
- 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
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
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 deaths.
- Effects of youth-focused firearm laws on youth suicides.
Webster DW, Vernick JS, Zeoli AM, Manganello JA. JAMA. 2004; 292:594-601.
- Reexamining the association between child access prevention gun laws and unintentional firearm deaths among children
Webster DW, Starnes M. Pediatrics. 2000;106:1466-1469.
- Storage Practices of US Gun Owners in 2016.
Crifasi CK1, Doucette ML1, McGinty EE1, Webster DW1, Barry CL. Am J Public Health. 2018 Apr;108(4):532-537.
- Law, Ethics, and Conversations between Physicians and Patients about Firearms in the Home
McCourt, A. and Vernick, J. AMA J Ethics. 2018;20(1):69-76.
Reports and Other Resources
- Hemenway, D., Azrael, D. & Miller, M. Whose guns are stolen? The epidemiology of Gun theft victims. Inj. Epidemiol. 4, 11 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40621-017-0109-8
- Johnson, R., Barber, C., Azrael, D., Clark, D. E., & Hemenway, D. (2010). Who are the owners of firearms used in adolescent suicide? Suicide and Life Threatening Behavior, 40(6), 609–611.
- 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. https://www.secretservice.gov/sites/default/files/2020-04/Protecting_Americas_Schools.pdf