Firearm safety interventions: you get what you pay for?

I work in a Level 1 Trauma Center in the state of Ohio in the United States. I am tasked with decreasing injury before it occurs by providing culturally-relevant injury prevention in my community. One thing you should know: Ohioans. Love. Guns. Many rely on it for game hunting, protection, sport, etc. Another thing you should know: a solid number of the trauma patients that come into my hospital present with a firearm injury. So how do we stop that?

As injury prevention researchers, we have a body of research which suggests that the safe storage of guns can significantly reduce unintentional firearm injuries in the home. However, a lacking body of research related to the safe storage of firearm injuries means we don’t have a conclusive answer.

In the latest issue of Injury Prevention, researchers at the University of Washington published a preliminary evaluation of a community-based firearm safety intervention. The intervention provided a free, participant-selected locking device designed for safe firearm storage. Additionally, participants were assessed for device preferences, as well as their level of comfort with firearm safety counselors.

What the study found was participants are more likely to lock all firearms in their household (+13.7%) and more likely to unload their firearms (+8.5%). Although not statistically significant, +6.3% reported that all their ammunition was safely stored away. The majority of participants also reported being comfortable in discussing firearms safety with a safety counselor.

This new research is great as it adds to the body of research suggesting that participants are, in fact, willing to employ safe firearm storage practices and willing to receive safety education. The kicker is that an increase in safe firearm storage was only observed if participants received a free firearm storage device. In a systematic review published by the same researchers, they discovered that out of 7 community-based interventions centered around safe firearm storage, only the 3 studies which offered free firearm storage devices observed increases in firearm storage rates.

With this in mind, how do we – as injury prevention practitioners – translate these findings into everyday practice? How do we aim to enhance the adoption of these best practices in the community with cost-effectiveness in mind?

In the United States, federal firearms dealers are required to provide with each gun that is sold with a storage or locking device. This law does not apply to private sales… except in the state of California, which requires all guns which are sold and transferred to be locked. The only state to criminalize the storage of unlocked firearms is the state of Massachusetts. In 2015, the Department of Justice awarded the National Shooting Sports Foundation a $2.4 million grant to distribute gun-safety kits (which included steel cable locks) to gun owners.

Hopefully, as the body of research in data relating to firearm storage increases, the answer to increasing the adoption of firearm safety best practices becomes more clearer.


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