Background: The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association recommend storing firearms unloaded and locked up to minimize the chance of injury. Although these recommendations appeal to common sense, no study has yet addressed whether firearm storage practices influence the risk of unintentional firearm injury.
Methods: Negative binomial regression analyses were used to assess the cross sectional relation between firearm storage practices and rates of unintentional firearm death in the United States, controlling for rates of firearm prevalence, poverty and urbanization. Recently available state-level measures of household firearm prevalence and firearm storage practices were obtained from the 2002 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. Unintentional firearm death counts and population data came from the National Center for Health Statistics.
Results: Independent of firearm prevalence, urbanization, and poverty, a disproportionately large share of unintentional firearm fatalities occurred in states where gun owners were more likely to store their firearms loaded, the greatest risk occurring in states where loaded firearms were more likely to be stored unlocked.
Conclusion: Our findings provide empirical support for recommendations issued by the AMA and the AAP that firearms should be stored unloaded and locked, and suggest that promoting safer storage practices could save many lives.