Safe Storage

The Issue

Currently, in Pennsylvania, there are no regulations or requirements for storing a firearm. This is a very dangerous precedent that leads to a deadly intersection between firearm access and those who should not have them. By requiring locked storage of all firearms when not in use, significant reductions in the accidental shooting of children, suicide, and school shootings could be realized.

 

The Facts

Accidental Shootings. A recent study estimates that 4.6 million children in America live in a home with an unlocked and loaded gun. Based on the CDC WISQARS fatal and non-fatal injury database, in the decade spanning 2007 – 2016, 17,304 children under the age of 18 were injured with firearms, and 915 were killed. Of those killed, the majority (489) were age 12 or under. Furthermore, we know that due to reporting rules used by coroners, the accidental shooting deaths of children are severely under-reported. [3]

Many parents believe that hiding a firearm is adequate to protect their children, but a study has shown[4] that in 73% of cases, children under the age of 10 reported knowing where their parents stored their firearms. Especially in the case of children, a large percentage of accidental shootings would be prevented if the firearm had been securely locked. Our children are dying because we fail to properly store firearms.

Firearm Suicides. Year after year, firearms account for about 50% of suicides in the United States, and suicides represent roughly two-thirds of the 35,000 Americans killed with firearms every year. These grim facts stem from the >80% lethality when firearms are used in an attempt to take one’s life, the widespread availability of and easy access to firearms [6] and the often impulsive nature of suicide. Experts who deal with suicide stress the importance of means restriction. For a person in crisis, even the delay caused by having to dial a combination in a firearm safe may be a sufficient barrier for the suicidal impulse to dissipate, allowing the potential victim to seek help.

But protection of the firearm owner from self-harm is not the only consideration. Youth suicide is a serious and tragic problem. A study has shown that among teens living in homes with guns, roughly 40% who had serious risk factors for suicide, and roughly 40% who had attempted suicide reported “easy access” to guns in the home. In the decade of 2007 – 2016, the CDC WISQAR fatal injury report2 indicates 10,923 American minors took their own lives with firearms. The vast majority of teen firearm suicides involve guns owned by someone in their home.

Researchers have shown that laws requiring use of gun locks are effective at preventing suicides. Massachusetts is the only state that requires all firearms to be stored with a locking device in place. The law is effective. Guns are used in just 9% of youth suicides in Massachusetts, compared to 39% of youth suicides in the United States. The overall suicide death rate among youth in Massachusetts is 35% below the national average. California, Connecticut and New York also have strong safe storage laws. Along with Massachusetts, these states have the lowest rates of youth suicide in the nation.[8]

School and Other Shootings by Minors. It is an unfortunate fact that minors in America have many times used unsecured firearms to perpetrate violence against others. Perhaps nowhere is the tragedy of such incidents more apparent than in the case of school shootings. An analysis of school shootings conducted by Everytown for Gun Safety reported that there were at least 84 school shootings in America in the 3 years following the Sandy Hook school shooting. A minor was the shooter in the majority of these incidents.[8] In a study published jointly by the US Secret Service and the Dept. of Education, it was found in 65% of the school shootings, the shooter used a gun obtained either at home or from the home of a relative.[9] In a review of school shootings from 1966 to 2015, the perpetrator was age 10 – 19 in 53.1% of the shootings.[10] A study of the origin of firearms in school shootings from 1991 to 2015 showed that in 30 of 33 secondary school shootings the shooter obtained his or her weapons either at their home or the home of a relative.[11]

It is clear that without the added incentive of legal penalties, far too many firearms owners choose to store their firearms in an unsafe manner. The results are often tragic, and disproportionately affect the most vulnerable among us, our children. The General Accounting office has estimated that 31% of deaths due to accidental shootings could be prevented by the use of two devices: a child-proof lock, and a loading indicator, a device that could be incorporated into a firearm to indicate if it has a bullet in its chamber.[12]

 

What is being done to address this issue?

HB 2597 will require gun owners to safely store firearms if a person who cannot legally possess a firearm lives in the owner’s residence. Approximately one out of three handguns are kept loaded and unlocked, more than 75% of first and second graders know where their parents keep their firearms, and 36% of first and second graders admitted handling the weapons, contradicting their parents’ reports. According to the U.S. Secret Service and the U.S. Department of Education, in 65% of the school shootings analyzed, the shooter obtained a gun from his or her own home or from the home of a relative. This bill will keep firearms out of reach of those who should not have access to them.

HB 2598 will require gun owners to safely store firearms when not under direct control of the owner. Among teenagers who live in a household that has a firearm, approximately 40% of those who had serious risk factors for suicide or who had attempted suicide in the past year reported having “easy access” to firearms in the home. Pennsylvania needs strong regulations in place to ensure that firearms are not falling into the wrong hands.

 

What can we do?

Let your legislators know you support safe storage requirements, lock up your firearms if you have firearms in the home, and ASK if the homes where your children visit have firearms and how they are secured.

 

Resources

[1] Deborah Azrael, Joanna Cohen, Carmel Salhi, and Matthew Miller, “Firearm Storage in Gun-owning Households with Children: Results of a 2015 National Survey.” Journal of Urban Health (2018): 1-10.

[2] https://www.cdc.gov/injury/wisqars/index.html

[3] Michael Luo and Mike McIntire, New York Times, Sept. 28, 2013

[4] Frances Baxley & Matthew Miller, Parental Misperceptions About Children and Firearms, 160 Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Med. 542, 544 (2006). [5] Spicer, R.S. and Miller, T.R. Suicide acts in 8 states: incidence and case fatality rates by demographics and method. American Journal of Public Health. 2000:90(12);1885. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/means-matter/means-matter/case-fatality/ [6] a) Miller M,. Azrael D., Hemenway D. Firearms and Suicide in the Northeast. Journal of Trauma.

2004; 57:626-632; b) Miller, M., Barber C., White R., Azrael D. Firearms and suicide in the United States: I risk independent of underlying suicidal behavior? Am. J. Epidemiol., 2013.

[7] Renee Johnson, et al, “Who are the owners of firearms used in adolescent suicides?,” Suicide and Life Threatening Behavior, Vol. 40(6), 609–11 (Dec. 2010), at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3085447/.; David C. Grossman, et al, “Self-inflicted & Unintentional Firearm Injuries Among Children & Adolescents: The Source of the Firearm,” 153 Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine, 875 (Aug. 1999), at http://archpedi.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/short/153/8/875. [8] “Safe Storage,” Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. https://lawcenter.giffords.org/gun-laws/policy-areas/child-consumer-safety/safe-storage/ [9] U.S. Secret Service & U.S. Dep’t of Education, The Final Report & Findings of the Safe School Initiative – Implications for the Prevention of School Attacks in the United States 27 (July 2004), at http://www2.ed.gov/admins/lead/safety/preventingattacksreport.pdf. [10] Multi-Victim School Shootings in the United States: A Fifty-Year Review, available at https://schoolshooters.info/ [11] The Origins of Firearms Used in School Shootings in the United States, available at https://schoolshooters.info/ [12] United States General Accounting Office, Accidental Shootings: Many Deaths and Injuries Caused by Firearms Could Be Prevented (March 1991), 17, https://www.gao.gov/assets/160/150353.pdf.