Storing firearms safely at home: Local study finds only half of parents keep them unloaded

Medical Watch

CHICAGO — Loaded and lethal. It’s about access to deadly weapons. After polling Chicago parents, local doctors are making a plea for better safety.

They’re typically purchased for self-protection, hunting or target practice, or as part of a collection. But doctors who care for children were curious: Are firearms stored safely in the home?

A study from Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago polled 1500 city parents through a “Voices of Child Health in Chicago” survey. 22% percent of respondents reported having a gun in the home.

Lurie Children’s emergency medicine physician Dr Karen Sheehan was involved in the findings.

“The good news is that most of the parents store their guns locked up, which is good,” she said. “The concerning news we got from this study is that 46% store the guns loaded. And that is a risk factor when you have young children and teens in the home. They can get into the locked box and injure themselves or others.”

Sheehan said the message for nearly half of parents who opt to keep a loaded firearm on hand is to keep guns stored empty, locked up and ammunition separate.

“What we’re really concerned about now is this unprecedented crisis in mental health,” Sheehan said. “We’re seeing a lot more kids with suicide attempts and suicide ideation. What makes that concerning is when you have a lethal means — something that really can be so harmful and irreversible — and guns are one of the most lethal ways to try and kill yourself. And there is no way to go back.”

While there has been an uptick in the number of young violence victims this year, Sheehan said unintentional firearm injuries or accidents are rare.

“If you look at all firearm injuries, one-third due to suicide, two-thirds homicide and some are unintentional injuries. A gun in the home that is not stored safely increases your risk of all three,” she said. “You can teach them about it, but kids in the heat of the moment will use it. And especially those young people with mental health issues having a gun in the home is a really dangerous combination.”

Read Full Voices of Child Health in Chicago Report Here.

The American Academy of Pediatrics advocates against having guns in a household where children reside.

Sheehan said there’s also the concern of theft – a weapon legally purchased that’s stolen from a home and then used in a crime on the street.

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