Safe Storage of Firearms Can Save Lives

Protect Minnesota wants to keep guns out of the hands of kids and criminals. The best way to do that is to make sure that people who own guns keep them safely stored.

Between two and three Minnesota children age 14 and under are killed or injured by gunfire every week.

A recent survey indicates that 44.7% of Minnesota households contain firearms. The good news is that most gun owners keep their weapons locked and unloaded. However, 3.4% of all Minnesota households contain loaded firearms and 2.3% contain locked and unloaded firearms. While these percentages are low, it is important to know that an estimated 19,770 Minnesota children are living in households that contain unlocked and loaded guns.1 And of course children who live in these homes are not the only ones who are exposed to the unlocked loaded weapons. Any child who comes into those homes to play is at risk from these firearms. Research shows that safe storage practices for firearms helps prevent both unintentional shootings and suicide attempts.2

What is safe storage?

Safe storage means keeping guns locked and unloaded, with the ammunition locked separately. Unfortunately, far too many gun owners do not properly store their weapons. While child safety trigger locks are better than taking no precautions, a gun safe is generally the most secure way to store a firearm. A June 2007 article in the journal Pediatrics noted that, "Few families reported safe firearm storage." Research has shown that most parents who believe their children do not know where guns are stored in the home are wrong; their children are well aware of hiding places and may also be aware of where keys are hidden. Do not allow your children, even very young ones, to watch while you secure a firearm.

Safe storage deters thieves

In Hennepin County, nearly one gun a day is stolen, and 78% of those stolen guns were completely unlocked, according to a 2005 Stolen Guns, Street Guns report.

Safe storage can keep a curious child or a desperate teenager from getting a gun

In Minnesota, 73 percent of gun deaths are suicides. Studies show that the risk of teen suicide is four to ten times higher in homes with guns than in homes without guns. The American Academy of Pediatrics states plainly, "The safest home is a home without guns." But if you do have a gun, especially if any children or teens live in or visit your home, safe storage is essential. Teens who have taken gun safety classes and go hunting should have access to their firearms only when engaged in those activities. Adolescents are not mature enough and their brains are not yet developed enough to be completely trusted around such deadly weapons. Just as restrictions are placed on teens when driving cars, restrictions should also be placed on teen access to firearms.

If you have a gun, please do the right thing and store it safely. Safe storage is a smart idea, for everybody.

If you want more ideas about safe storage, check out our Protect Minnesota Kids and Guns brochures. You can also check out www.childproofhandguns.org.

Examples of what can happen when guns are not stored safely

More than half of Minnesota households have guns, so it's not surprising that most illegal guns are stolen — often relatively easily — from homes where they are not stored safely.

  • In 2006, in Washington County, Steven Van Keuren killed his ex-girlfriend, Teri Lee and her boyfriend, Tim Hawkinson, with a gun he stole from his father's gun cabinet — after a failed attempt to kill Teri Lee with a knife.
  • In 2003, Freshman Jason McLaughlin killed two of his classmates at Rocori High School in Cold Spring, MN, using a handgun his father — a deputy sheriff — kept in a room that was "generally" locked. (Minnesota law requires that loaded guns must not be accessible to anyone under 14.)
  • Cory Brown, a heroin addict, stole a .44 Magnum from his father's dresser. The gun was stolen from him and later used during a fight at Block E in downtown Minneapolis in 2006, killing Alan Reitter, a bystander out with friends for the evening.

Protect Minnesota urges all Minnesota gun-owners to keep their weapons safe. Although Minnesota law does not require gun locks, any gun-owner with children should use them religiously. Burglars often target homes where they know they can find guns, putting them out on the street where they are likely to be used to commit other crimes. A gun stashed in a drawer, or in an unlocked gun cabinet, can easily become a criminal weapon.

For more on safe storage, please read our report, Stolen Guns-Street Guns: A Report on Gun Theft in Hennepin County.

References

1 Okoro, C.A. et al (2005). Prevalence of household firearms and firearm-storage practices in the 50 states and the District of Columbia: Findings from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, 2002. Pediatrics, 116(3): 370-376.

2 Grossman, D.C. et al. (2005) Gun storage practices and risk of youth suicide and unintentional firearm injuries. Journal of the American Medical Association, 293:707-714