Context: Since 1989, several states have passed laws that make gun owners criminally liable if someone is injured because a child gains unsupervised access to a gun. These laws are controversial, and their effect on firearm-related injuries is unknown.
Objective: To determine if state laws that require safe storage of firearms are associated with a reduction in child mortality due to firearms.
Design: An ecological study of firearm mortality from 1979 through 1994.
Setting: All 50 states and the District of Columbia.
Participants: All children younger than 15 years.
Main outcome measures: Unintentional deaths, suicides, and homicides due to firearms.
Results: Laws that make gun owners responsible for storing firearms in a manner that makes them inaccessible to children were in effect for at least 1 year in 12 states from 1990 through 1994. Among children younger than 15 years, unintentional shooting deaths were reduced by 23% (95% confidence interval, 6%-37%) during the years covered by these laws. This estimate was based on within-state comparisons adjusted for national trends in unintentional firearm-related mortality. Gun-related homicide and suicide showed modest declines, but these were not statistically significant.
Conclusions: State safe storage laws intended to make firearms less accessible to children appear to prevent unintentional shooting deaths among children younger than 15 years.