Gun Violence Prevention Resources

Firearm safety practices

Secure Storage Practices to Reduce Gun Violence

Introduction

There are an estimated 265 million civilian-owned firearms in the United States, and more than one-third of homes contain at least one gun. Gun owners can make our homes and communities safer by storing their firearms unloaded and locked, with ammunition kept in a separate place, to prevent access by children and other people who are at risk of harming themselves or others. Research shows that these storage practices can play a vital role in reducing the risk of gun violence, particularly among children, due to unintentional shootings and gun suicides.

The bottom line is this: Storing firearms unloaded, locked, and separate from ammunition prevents access and saves lives.

What is secure firearm storage?

Experts Agree: In order to prevent access, firearm storage practices should include three methods employed in combination—unloading the ammunition, locking the firearm, and storing the firearm and ammunition in separate locations.

Unload: Gun owners should remove all ammunition from the firearm, including removing any chambered rounds.

Lock: Unloaded firearms should be secured with a firearm locking device, such as a jacket lock, or in a locked location, like a safe or lock box. Locking devices, safes, and lock boxes are equipped with keys, combinations, or biometric technology that limit access. Remember: Firearm locks do not prevent gun theft.

Separate: Ammunition should be stored separately from the firearm in a secure location.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) concludes that the absence of guns from homes is the most reliable and effective measure to prevent suicide, homicide, and unintentional firearm-related injuries to children and adolescents. But if there are guns in the home, AAP notes that storing guns unloaded and locked, with ammunition kept in a separate place, can mitigate the risk of child firearm injury.

Key Findings

Access to unsecured firearms contributes to gun violence among children and teens. Every year, nearly 350 children under the age of 18 unintentionally shoot themselves or someone else. That’s roughly one unintentional shooting per day, and 70 percent of these incidents take place inside a home. Another 700 children die by gun suicide each year, most often using guns belonging to a family member. Unsecured firearms also fuel gun violence outside the home. In incidents of gun violence on school grounds, up to 80 percent of shooters under the age of 18 obtained their guns from their own home, a relative’s home, or from friends.

We are all safer when guns are stored unloaded, locked, and separate from ammunition. One study found that households that locked both firearms and ammunition were associated with a 78 percent lower risk of self-inflicted firearm injuries, and an 85 percent lower risk of unintentional firearm injuries among children, compared to those that locked neither. Another study estimated that if half of households with children that contain at least one unlocked gun switched to locking all their guns, one-third of youth gun suicides and unintentional deaths could be prevented, saving an estimated 251 lives in a single year.

Despite the risks to safety, the majority of gun owners do not secure their firearms. While millions of responsible gun owners follow recommended storage practices, an estimated 54 percent do not lock all their guns, let alone store them unloaded, locked, and separate from ammunition. Gun owners with children in the home are slightly more likely to lock all of their guns, but an estimated 4.6 million American children live in households with at least one unlocked and loaded firearm.

Contrary to popular belief, storage devices do not prevent owners from readily accessing their guns. There is a common myth that storage devices negate the self-defense purpose of owning a gun by putting time-consuming barriers between the gun owner and their means of defense. The reality is that there are many affordable options for firearm storage that provide owners with access to guns in a matter of seconds while still preventing access by children and people at increased risk of harming themselves or others. Further, it is possible that unsecured guns may actually increase the likelihood of crime and violence through an increased risk of gun theft. Each year, an estimated 200,000 to 500,000 guns are stolen, and many are funneled into the underground market, where once-legally-owned firearms can be transferred to people with dangerous histories.

Modeling Responsible Behavior Around Firearms

It is always an adult’s responsibility to prevent unauthorized access to guns, not a curious child’s responsibility to avoid guns. Numerous studies have shown that the majority of children are aware of where their parents store their guns and that more than one-third reported handling their parents’ guns, many doing so without the knowledge of their parents. Nearly a quarter of parents did not know that their children had handled the gun in their house.

Modeling responsible behavior means that SMART adults make sure that children don’t have the opportunity to access guns. That said, you can’t always control the environment that a child is in, so you should teach them not to touch a gun if they come across one, real or pretend, and give them the tools to get out of a dangerous situation, and to alert an adult. As an adult, it’s your responsibility to do everything you can to prevent them from getting into a dangerous situation to begin with.

Asking About Secure Firearm Storage in Other Homes

Owning a gun is a personal decision, but secure storage is a public safety issue. Kids and unsecured guns are a potentially lethal combination. Fortunately, a simple conversation can help keep children out of harm’s way. It doesn’t need to feel strange or awkward to bring up the issue of how guns are stored. 

Many unintentional shootings happen in the homes of relatives, friends, or caregivers. It’s very possible that some of your family members or close friends have unsecured guns in their homes. It’s important to ask each time your child will visit, as storage practices and gun ownership may change. Never make assumptions when a child’s safety is at stake. It’s up to all of us to keep our children safe.

These simple conversations with your friends, caregivers, and relatives before your child visits can help save lives.

Sample Conversation Starters

Part of general safety conversations:

“Before I drop my son off, I just wanted to check to see if you have pets? And also ask if you have firearms in your house and confirm how they are stored. I want to make sure he knows your safety rules.”

Part of other teen safety conversations:

“Hey, excited the kids are getting together over the weekend. I know that they’ve hung out quite a bit, but my daughter has never been over to your house so I want to confirm a couple of things: Will an adult be at the house the whole time? Also, I heard a story on the news that made me decide I should always ask this—do you have any firearms, and how are they stored? Do you need me to pick her up or can you give her a ride home?”

If you know that the homeowner or your family member is a gun owner:

“We are looking forward to spending time with you and with the whole family. I know I have never asked this before, but after hearing about a recent unintentional shooting in the area, I just have to ask: how are your guns stored? The kids get into everything, and I don’t want to spend the day looking over my shoulder worried about them, or the rest of the kids. (Option: I’m happy to purchase gun locks if you don’t have them.)”

Sample Text or Email Starters

Sometimes these conversations are easier via email. Try “sandwiching” your question amongst other questions and information. For example:

“I know my son hasn't been to your home before and I do like to ask a few safety questions. He is skittish around dogs, do you have any? Also, do you own any firearms, and if so, how are they stored? Finally, will they be playing video games? We only allow limited time on ones rated ‘E.’ He doesn't have any allergies. For future reference, no pets, and no firearms at our home. Thanks so much.”

Sample Texts, Emails, or Conversation Starters for Teenage Babysitters

Certainly, there are times that a teen will be in the role of the caregiver and need to confirm this information on his/her own. The onus is still on adults. Here is sample language:

“I’m confirming that you need me at 7pm on Saturday evening. Let me know if the kids will need to be fed. Also, my parents wanted me to ask if there are any unsecured guns in the home? Thanks.”

Make it a Deal-Breaker

In the unlikely event that your friends or relatives don’t confirm that they store guns securely, make sure they know that you won’t allow your children in their home:

“I’m sorry but unless you make sure your guns are locked the entire time WE/CHILD’S NAME is at your home, WE/THEY won’t be able to make it. The kids are good kids, but curious, and I just can’t take the risk of them hurting themselves or someone else. We’d be happy to have you at our house instead this year.”

Share Your Own Secure Gun Storage Habits

If you are a gun owner, volunteer information about your own secure gun storage habits, and let your friends and family know that you are open to having the conversation with them:

“Hi, we just got a new puppy—I wanted to flag in case there were any allergies. Also, I wanted to let you know that we hunt in the fall, but our guns are stored securely, locked, unloaded with the ammunition stored separately. It’s important for us to know about your gun ownership and storage practices ahead of time too. Can’t wait to see you!”

Preventing Child Firearm Suicide

Gun violence has a devastating impact on children in America. In fact, 40 percent of child gun deaths are suicides—that’s nearly 700 child gun suicides each year. One study showed that over 80 percent of children under the age of 18 who died by gun suicide used a gun belonging to a parent or relative. For people of all ages, access to a gun increases the risk of death by suicide by three times.

Most people who attempt suicide do not die—unless they use a gun. In fact, 90 percent of suicide attempts with a gun result in death—a much higher fatality rate than any other means of self-harm. This contributes to the fact that 40 percent of child suicides involve a gun.

A national survey of high school students found that 17 percent had seriously considered attempting suicide within the last year. And one study showed that 41 percent of adolescents in gun-owning households report having “easy access” to the guns in their home.

Research shows that secure firearm storage is associated with a decreased risk of child firearm suicide. One study showed that households that locked both firearms and ammunition had a 78 percent lower risk of self-inflicted firearm injuries among children and teenagers.

The risk of gun violence and self-harm have grown during the COVID-19 pandemic, with kids experiencing increased levels of stress and isolation, and more guns being purchased. These factors make it even more important that firearms are stored securely.

Signs to look out for when concerned that a loved one may be suicidal:

  • Prolonged sadness and depression
  • Changes in mood or behavior
  • Hopelessness
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Withdrawing/Isolation
  • Aggression or agitation
  • Increased alcohol or drug use
  • Talking about killing themselves

Some additional key steps you can take to support your loved one include inviting an honest conversation, listening and supporting your loved one, and encouraging them to see a mental health professional or a primary care physician.

Resources

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, Call 1-800-273-8255. Available 24 hours a day.
  • Trevor Project, the LGBTQ youth suicide prevention line, Call Trevor Lifeline: 1-866-488-7386.
  • Text HOME to 741741 from anywhere in the United States, anytime, about any type of crisis.

Helping a Child Who Could Be a Threat to Themselves or Others

What To Watch For

Examples of potentially dangerous or emergency situations with a child or adolescent include:

  • threats or warnings about hurting or killing oneself
  • threats or warnings about hurting or killing someone
  • threats to run away from home
  • threats to damage or destroy property

Child and adolescent psychiatrists and other mental health professionals agree that it is very difficult to predict a child's future behavior. A person's past behavior, however, is still one of the best predictors of future behavior. For example, a child with a history of violent or assaultive behavior is more likely to carry out his/her threats and become violent.

The presence of one or more of the following increases the risk of violent or dangerous behavior:

  • past violent or aggressive behavior (including uncontrollable angry outbursts)
  • access to guns or other weapons
  • bringing a weapon to school
  • past suicide attempts or threats
  • family history of violent behavior or suicide attempts
  • blaming others and/or unwilling to accept responsibility for one's own actions
  • recent experience of humiliation, shame, loss, or rejection
  • bullying or intimidating peers or younger children
  • a pattern of threats
  • being a victim of abuse or neglect (physical, sexual, or emotional)
  • witnessing abuse or violence in the home
  • themes of death or depression repeatedly evident in conversation, written expressions, reading selections, or artwork
  • preoccupation with themes and acts of violence in TV shows, movies, music, magazines, comics, books, video games, and Internet sites
  • mental illness, such as depression, mania, psychosis, or bipolar disorder
  • use of alcohol or illicit drugs
  • disciplinary problems at school or in the community (delinquent behavior)
  • past destruction of property or vandalism
  • cruelty to animals
  • firesetting behavior
  • poor peer relationships and/or social isolation
  • involvement with cults or gangs
  • little or no supervision or support from parents or other caring adult 1

How To Get Help

When a child makes a serious threat, it should not be dismissed as just idle talk. Parents, teachers, or other adults should immediately talk with the child. If it is determined that the child is at risk and/or the child refuses to talk, is argumentative, responds defensively, or continues to express violent or dangerous thoughts or plans, arrangements should be made for an immediate assessment by a mental health professional with experience evaluating children and adolescents.

If you worry that a student could be a threat to themselves or others, FCPS maintains a safety tip line for parents, students, and community members. Share your concerns by calling 571-423-2020 or texting “TIP FCPS” to 888-777.

Emergency Substantial Risk Order (Red Flag Law)

Virginia’s Emergency Substantial Risk Order (ESRO) law prevents individuals who show signs of being a threat to themselves or others from purchasing, possessing or transporting any kind of firearm. The media and some organizations sometimes refer to ESROs and similar laws as “Red Flag Laws.” 

An ESRO provides necessary procedural safeguards to ensure that no firearm is removed without due process while ensuring that tragedies, like recent school shootings, are not repeated.

Learn more about requesting/seeking an ESRO.

Gun Violence - Student Support Resources and FCPS Safety Practices