Free lock boxes tied to safer gun storage in family homes

(Reuters Health) - Giving away free lock boxes for gun storage may lead more families to store firearms safely away from children, a recent study suggests.

The researchers examined data on gun and ammunition storage habits in about 200 households before and after a community education program on firearm safety that offered participants free firearm lock boxes or trigger locks.

Overall, the proportion of participants who said all ammunition and firearms in the house were stored locked, and unloaded, climbed from 33 percent before the education program and lock giveaway to 46 percent afterward.

“Storing firearms safely, including keeping them locked and unloaded, is effective for preventing unintentional firearm injuries and suicides - especially among children and adolescents,” said lead study author Dr. Joseph Simonetti of the VA Rocky Mountain Mental Illness Research, Education and Clinical Center at the Denver VA Medical Center in Colorado.

“The average person living in a home with a firearm is more likely to sustain an unintentional or self-inflicted firearm injury than be a victim of a firearm-related assault or homicide,” Simonetti said by email.

Simonetti and colleagues looked for changes in household firearm practices before and after community outreach events around Seattle, Washington in 2015.

Overall, 53 percent of the participants had a child under 18 in the household, and slightly more than a third of them had a child under 11 in their home.

Educators at the events demonstrated how to use firearm lock boxes and trigger locks and also explained some of the risks associated with improper gun and ammunition storage. To prevent injuries or suicide attempts, they also encouraged removal of guns from the home when a member of the household is depressed or has a substance abuse problem.

Prior to the event, 52 percent of participants said they used a firearm safe at home, while 29 percent used a cable lock, 21 percent had trigger locks and 20 percent had a firearm lock box.

At the event, nearly nine in ten participants said they would prefer to take home a free lock box, not a trigger lock.

Afterward, 75 percent of participants said they used the device they got at the event to store a household firearm, researchers report in Injury Prevention.

Limitations of the study include the reliance on participants to accurately report and recall how they stored guns and ammunition before and after attending safety events, as well as the lack of a control group of gun owners who didn’t attend the event that might help show how much the event was directly responsible for any changes in storage habits.

Even so, the findings offer fresh evidence that educating families and giving them free storage options may help more of them store guns safely, said Dr. Ruth Abaya of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

“Knowledge about safe storage has been available for some time,” Abaya, who wasn’t involved in the study, said by email. “We must determine the most effective messengers to ensure that the message is received and trusted.”

Too often, people don’t want to lock guns because they don’t think accidents will happen and they want their firearms immediately available and ready to use, said David Schwebel of the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

“But accidents can happen to anyone, and storing firearms that are unlocked and loaded is extremely dangerous,” Schwebel, who wasn’t involved in the study, said by email. “Accidents happen every day, and tragic unintentional deaths and injuries occur.”

SOURCE: Injury Prevention, online July 24, 2017.