Objective: To ascertain the specific suggestions that local police departments in the United States give to parents who ask for advice about methods to safely store handguns.
Methods: A cross-sectional, semistructured telephone survey was administered to a sample of 102 police departments in the United States in cities with populations of 10,000 or more, selected within blocks of cities of similar population size. An investigator, posing as a parent of 3-year-old and 10-year-old children, called departments seeking specific advice on how to safely store a handgun acquired for protection.
Results: Usable responses were generated for 93 (91%) of the departments sampled. Only 3 departments (3.2%) refused to give advice over the telephone. The most commonly suggested storage methods were trigger locks (55 departments [59%]), portable lockboxes for handguns (48 [52%]), and the separation of guns from ammunition (30 [32%]). Seven percent of departments suggested removing the gun from the household. Over half of those suggesting trigger locks and lockboxes considered these devices safe (35 [64%] for trigger locks and 27 [56%] for lockboxes) and yet rapidly accessible to an adult (36 [65%] for trigger locks and 36 [75%] for lockboxes). Responding police officers most commonly reported using the following storage methods at home: no storage method (31 [38%]), portable lockboxes (23 [28%]), out-of-reach location (11 [13%]), separation of gun and ammunition (10 [12%]), and trigger locks (5 [6%]).
Conclusions: Trigger locks are frequently recommended but infrequently used by police themselves at home. Portable lockboxes are frequently recommended as well as used by police.