Parents of teens more likely than parents of younger children to store firearms unsafely

Even though most youth firearms injuries involve teens, guns are more likely to be stored unsafely in homes with adolescents age 13 to 17 than in those with only younger children, according to an article in the August issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

About one-third of U.S. households with children also contain firearms, and many firearm injuries among children take place in the home, according to background information in the article. Previous research indicates that despite the fact that safe storage practices may reduce the risk of unintentional injury or suicide, 14 to 30 percent of these households store at least one firearm loaded and about 43 percent store one unlocked. Nearly 2 million children may live in homes with loaded, unlocked firearms.

Renee M. Johnson, Ph.D., and colleagues at the Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, surveyed 392 parents nationwide who had firearms in their homes in the spring of 2004. Respondents were asked about their attitudes and beliefs surrounding firearms, their ownership and storage practices and demographic information about themselves and other members of their households.

About 22 percent of parents reported having a loaded gun, 31.5 percent had an unlocked gun and 8.3 percent had an unlocked, loaded gun. In 110 (28.1 percent) of the 392 households, all children were ages 13 to 17 years; these households had the highest rates of unsafe storage practices. Nearly 42 percent of these parents had an unlocked firearm in the home, compared with 28.8 percent of parents whose children were all age 12 years or younger. The researchers also found a slight association between having teenagers and storing guns loaded or loaded and unlocked.

"As young people become adolescents, parents may become less vigilant about keeping firearms stored securely," the authors write. "This assertion is supported by the present research, as well as by studies on parents' attitudes about firearm safety, in which authors concluded that parents were more likely to believe that adolescents, compared with younger children, are old enough to exhibit good judgment around firearms. This belief creates a situation in which adolescents have easy access to a lethal means with which to kill themselves or to hurt others."

Future efforts to educate gun-owning parents about safe storage practices may have to specifically include messages for parents of teens as well as parents of young children, they conclude. For example, outreach efforts may have to move beyond pediatricians' offices, since teens often do not visit pediatricians and their parents may not accompany them to physician appointments. (Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2006;160:788-792. Available pre-embargo to the media at http://www.jamamedia.org.)

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Editor's Note: The National Firearms Study 2004 was supported by a grant from the Joyce Foundation to the Harvard Injury Control Research Center (principal investigator, Dr. Miller). Please see the article for additional information, including other authors, author contributions and affiliations, financial disclosures, funding and support, etc.

For more information, contact JAMA/Archives Media Relations at 312/464-JAMA (5262) or e-mail mediarelations@jama-archives.org.


Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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