Objective: To identify factors associated with keeping guns loaded. Four hypotheses were tested: that people are more likely to keep their firearms loaded if (1) the primary reason for owning a gun is protection, (2) the gun is a handgun, (3) there are no children in the household, or (4) the gun owner has not received training in the proper use of firearms.
Design and setting: A random national telephone survey of gun owners conducted in December 1989. A screening question was used to identify individuals as gun owners. Participants were called at home.
Participants: 605 individuals (approximately two thirds of the population contacted) participated in the survey. All were 18 years and older, most were men (64%), and a few were nonwhite (12%). The majority owned more than one gun (77%).
Results: Three of the four hypotheses were substantiated by the data. Handgun owners (odds ratio [OR], 2.17; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.67 to 2.82), individuals who owned a firearm principally for protection (OR, 1.65; 95% CI, 1.30 to 2.11), and people who lived in households without children (OR, 1.42; 95% CI, 1.13 to to 1.82) were all more likely to keep a gun loaded than other individuals. Instruction in the proper use of firearms did not seem to affect the probability of keeping guns loaded (OR, 0.86; 95% CI, 0.69 to 1.07).
Conclusions: The spontaneous nature of many firearm deaths has led to speculation that a substantial proportion of firearm-related morbidity and mortality could be prevented if easy access to loaded weapons were reduced through appropriate storage practices. Our findings show that a significant proportion of gun owners disregard basic safety procedures. However, without information on the specific content of safety instruction, we cannot say that education about safe storage practices is ineffective.