February 8, 2005

Certain gun storage practices can reduce risk of youth suicide and accidental injuries

Seattle—Keeping a gun locked, unloaded, and storing ammunition in a locked and separate location can lower the risk of unintentional injuries and suicide among youth, according to a study in the February 9 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The study was led by David Grossman, MD, MPH, medical director of preventive care at Group Health Cooperative. He conducted the research when he was director of the University of Washington's Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center.

According to background information in the article, the presence of a household firearm is associated with an increased risk of suicide among adults and adolescents. In a previous study of suicide attempters and completers, investigators found that 75 percent of the guns were stored in the residence of the victim, friend, or relative. Another study found that 35 percent of homes in the United States with children younger than 18 years reported at least one firearm, and that 43 percent of these homes had at least one unlocked firearm. Many organizations and health authorities advocate locking firearms and ammunition to prevent access to guns by children and adolescents. The association of these firearm storage practices with the reduction of firearm injury risk has been unclear.

In this current study, Grossman and colleagues measured the association of household firearm storage practices and the risk of unintentional and self-inflicted firearm injuries as a result of child or adolescent access to firearms in the home. The researchers examined records from medical examiner and coroner offices and hospitals from 37 counties in Washington, Oregon, and Missouri, and 5 trauma centers in Seattle, Spokane, and Tacoma, Wash., and Kansas City, Mo. They included data that involved an incident in which a child or adolescent younger than 20 years gained access to a firearm and shot himself/herself intentionally or unintentionally or shot another individual unintentionally.

The researchers identified a control group of eligible households with at least one firearm and children living or visiting in the home. The researchers interviewed 106 respondents in which a shooting incident occurred (case firearms/households) and 480 with control firearms to ascertain gun storage practices. Of the shootings associated with the case firearms, 82 were suicide attempts (95 percent fatal) and 24 were unintentional injuries (52 percent fatal).

The researchers found that guns from case households were 70 percent less likely to be stored unloaded than control guns. Similarly, case guns were 73 percent less likely to be stored locked, stored separately from ammunition (55 percent less likely), or to have ammunition that was locked (61 percent less likely) than were control guns. These findings were consistent for both handguns and long guns and were also similar for both suicide attempts and unintentional injuries.

"In summary, storing household guns as locked, unloaded, or separate from the ammunition is associated with significant reductions in the risk of unintentional and self-inflicted firearm injuries and deaths among adolescents and children. Programs and policies designed to reduce accessibility of guns to youth, by keeping households guns locked and unloaded, deserve further attention as one avenue toward the prevention of firearm injuries in this population," the authors write.

RIGHTNAVBOX Questions and Answers: Gun storage safety study in JAMA

Group Health Center for Health Studies
Group Health Research Institute does practical research that helps people like you and your family stay healthy. The Institute is the research arm of Seattle-based Group Health Cooperative, a consumer-governed, nonprofit health care system. Founded in 1947, Group Health Cooperative coordinates health care and coverage. Group Health Research Institute changed its name from Group Health Center for Health Studies in 2009. Since 1983, the Institute has conducted nonproprietary public-interest research on preventing, diagnosing, and treating major health problems. Government and private research grants provide its main funding.