June 8, 2007

Parents not storing guns safely: study

Featured Image

Shari Barkin, M.D., examines La'Nea Parker as mom Jennifer Parker looks on.
(photo by Susan Urmy)

Parents not storing guns safely: study

A study by Vanderbilt's Shari Barkin, M.D., and colleagues found that a high number of families who own guns admit their guns are not always safely stored.

As a matter of fact, only one-third of the families who took part in the large, national study reported that their guns were stored according to recommendations from safety experts.

The study, appearing in the June issue of the journal Pediatrics, was based on data collected through the Pediatric Research in Office Settings (PROS), the practice-based research network of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

More than 3,700 parents with children 2 to 11 years old were surveyed at pediatricians' offices in 45 states and Puerto Rico. Fewer parents reported having a firearm in the home than in previous studies (23.3 percent as compared with 35 percent), but many of the families with firearms reported that the gun was either not locked up (49 percent) or the bullets were not stored locked and separately (20 percent).

Several factors made unsafe storage more likely, among them, the age of the children in the home, the type of gun owned and whether parents were raised in gun-owning families themselves.

“That was interesting to me,” said Barkin, chief of the Division of General Pediatrics at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt. “I thought that if someone's parents owned guns that there would be safety teaching from a young age, but the facts reflect that people appear to become more complacent when a firearm is part of their surroundings throughout life, whereas in families for whom firearm ownership was new, there was a higher likelihood that storage was safe.”

Families with long guns, like rifles, were more likely to hide the gun somewhere, and families with children over the age of 5 were also less likely to be as cautious in the storage of guns.

Barkin said this is valuable information for educating patients.

“If parents choose not to remove guns where children live and play, pediatricians can take part in an effort to teach safer gun storage, tailoring their teaching efforts to families at higher risk for un-safe gun storage.”

Another valuable piece of information is the reason families reported owning firearms. Families who lived in rural areas were more likely to report using them for recreation, while those from urban areas reported owning a gun for personal safety. It is interesting to note that while states like Wyoming have a very high overall gun-ownership rate (62.8 percent) when compared with urban areas like the District of Columbia (5.2 percent), storage practices were equally unsafe in either rural or urban areas.

“What we know is that having a gun stored in an unsafe manner increases the risk of injury of death. We also know that injuries and death are reduced if the gun is stored locked, unloaded and with the ammunition stored separately and locked as well,” Barkin said.

Barkin was the principal investigator of the study, conducted while she was at Wake Forest University School of Medicine. Robert DuRant, Ph.D., of Wake Forest, was the first author, and the senior author was Richard Wasserman, M.D., Ph.D., of the University of Vermont.