Every five days on average, a child or teen is killed or hospitalized by gunfire in Washington state. Nationally, 8,400 children are killed or hospitalized every year from firearms.
Safe storage of firearms can prevent many of these tragedies and save lives, but people need to be educated on solutions. U.S. Senator Patty Murray asked the Federal Government Accountability Office (GAO) to explore programs across the country that promote safe firearm storage. One of the programs featured in the GAO report released this month is Public Health’s Violence and Injury Prevention program’s own LOK-IT-UP safe storage initiative.
We sat down with Karyn Brownson, our Community Safety Manager, to find out what the report means and why it is so important to LOK-IT-UP.
Why is it so important to safely store firearms?
How guns are stored makes a big difference in the safety of our families and our communities. In 2015, almost one in five King County adults reported that firearms were present in or around their homes. Most King County residents likely know someone who owns a gun.
Storing household firearms safely reduces the risk of curious small children getting unintentionally hurt or killed by playing with the family gun, or a family member in crisis using an unsecured firearm for suicide. Safe storage also helps keep firearms off of school premises, and protects firearm owners from losing their gun in a burglary and keeps stolen guns out of the illegal market.
What’s the best way to store firearms?
There are many ways to store a firearm safely. Most ideally, firearms are locked up in a safe or a lockbox, or secured with a trigger lock or cable lock; stored unloaded; and with ammunition stored in a separate locked container.
What does the GAO report mean?
According to the GAO report, a lack of funding and data limits the amount of research that can be done on understanding the benefits of safe storage and reducing firearm fatalities. The 1996 Dickey Amendment, which has been re-enacted since it was passed and was expanded to apply to all federal agencies in 2012, restricts the appropriation of federal funds to advocate or promote gun control. The amendment has caused many federal agencies to determine that funding crucial research on the prevention of firearm fatalities is too risky for them. Research on firearm fatality prevention receives less funding and fewer publication opportunities than research on other leading causes of death. This limitation on federal funding and lack of funding from other sources has led to less data and information being available for public health experts across the United States to better understand how to encourage safe gun storage at home.
How has Public Health worked to gather data on firearm storage and injury?
We are lucky to partner with local firearm violence prevention research experts at Harborview Medical Center, University of Washington, and Seattle Children’s Hospital to analyze firearm death and injury data for key risks and prevention needs.
We also worked with other local health departments in Washington and the Washington State Department of Health to make sure critical questions about firearm storage remained on the Washington State Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) survey after they were removed from the national survey in 2004. These efforts have provided Washington state and local counties with the most complete and updated set of firearm information of any state and local entity.
But, there is still more to learn. Federal funding for more data and research on safe storage will help people all over the United States make the safest decisions to protect their families and communities from firearm injuries.
Are King County families storing their firearms safely?
The good news is that most adults in King County reported that their firearms were stored following safety guidelines. But there’s more work to do: one out of every three adults with guns in their homes reported storing them loaded and over 40% stored their firearms unlocked.
You can make a difference in King County by making sure any firearms in your house and community are safely stored. As part of our LOK-IT-UP program, we partner with firearm retailers to make it easier and less costly for King County residents to safety store their firearms. Learn more about which safe storage device is right for you and find participating retailers here.
Our local communities, like most others in the country, have more work to do on firearm safety. Storing your firearm safely is an important place to start to keep our children and communities safe.