Context Household firearms are associated with an elevated risk of firearm death to occupants in the home. Many organizations and health authorities advocate locking firearms and ammunition to prevent access to guns by children and adolescents. The association of these firearm storage practices with the reduction of firearm injury risk is unclear.
Objective To measure the association of specific household firearm storage practices (locking guns, locking ammunition, keeping guns unloaded) and the risk of unintentional and self-inflicted firearm injuries.
Design and Setting Case-control study of firearms in events identified by medical examiner and coroner offices from 37 counties in Washington, Oregon, and Missouri, and 5 trauma centers in Seattle, Spokane, and Tacoma, Wash, and Kansas City, Mo.
Cases and Controls Case firearms were identified by involvement in an incident in which a child or adolescent younger than 20 years gained access to a firearm and shot himself/herself intentionally or unintentionally or shot another individual unintentionally. Firearm assaults and homicides were excluded. We used records from hospitals and medical examiners to ascertain these incidents. Using random-digit dial telephone sampling, control firearms were identified by identification of eligible households with at least 1 firearm and children living or visiting in the home. Controls were frequency matched by age group and county.
Main Exposure Measures The key exposures of interest in this study were: (1) whether the subject firearm was stored in a locked location or with an extrinsic lock; (2) whether the firearm was stored unloaded; (3) whether the firearm was stored both unloaded in a locked location; (4) whether the ammunition for the firearm was stored separately; and (5) whether the ammunition was stored in a locked location. Data regarding the storage status of case and control guns were collected by interview with respondents from the households of case and control firearms.
Results We interviewed 106 respondents with case firearms and 480 with control firearms. Of the shootings associated with the case firearms, 81 were suicide attempts (95% fatal) and 25 were unintentional injuries (52% fatal). After adjustment for potentially confounding variables, guns from case households were less likely to be stored unloaded than control guns (odds ratio [OR], 0.30; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.16-0.56). Similarly, case guns were less likely to be stored locked (OR, 0.27; 95% CI, 0.17-0.45), stored separately from ammunition (OR, 0.45; 95% CI, 0.34-0.93), or to have ammunition that was locked (OR, 0.39; 95% CI, 0.23-0.66) than were control guns. These findings were consistent for both handguns and long guns and were also similar for both suicide attempts and unintentional injuries.
Conclusions The 4 practices of keeping a gun locked, unloaded, storing ammunition locked, and in a separate location are each associated with a protective effect and suggest a feasible strategy to reduce these types of injuries in homes with children and teenagers where guns are stored.