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Many U.S. Gun Owners Keep at Least 1 Gun Intentionally Unlocked
  • Posted March 3, 2023

Many U.S. Gun Owners Keep at Least 1 Gun Intentionally Unlocked

Locking up firearms can help prevent injury and death, yet a majority of gun owners say they keep at least one gun unlocked in case of emergency.

Rutgers University researchers surveyed more than 2,100 adult gun owners about gun storage, types of locking devices and locking mechanisms.

The survey found that 58% store at least one firearm unlocked and hidden. Another 18% store at least one firearm unlocked and unhidden.

When firearm owners lock at least one gun, most use a gun safe. In all, 32% said they used a device opened by key, PIN code or dial lock, and 16% used biometric devices. In general, biometric devices rely on characteristics such fingerprints or facial features to identify a user.

“These findings highlight two key points,” said lead author Michael Anestis, executive director of the New Jersey Gun Violence Research Center at Rutgers. “First, it appears firearm owners prefer gun safes relative to cable locks and trigger locks. Most locking device distribution programs provide cable locks and trigger locks, so those programs might be mismatched to firearm owner preferences. Second, very few firearm owners use biometric locks, which could indicate that cost is an issue or that firearm owners do not trust the technology to work when needed.”

So why do owners not lock their firearms?

The most common reasons: 49% said locks are unnecessary; and 45% said locks will prevent quick access in an emergency.

About 49% said they would consider locking their firearms to prevent access by a child; and 37% would do so to keep them out of adolescent hands or prevent theft.

“Given these results, it appears that increasing the use of secure firearm storage will require several things. First, to address motivation we need to address disproportionate fears regarding the likelihood of armed home invasions,” Anestis said in a university news release.

“Similarly, we need to help the public better understand the risks associated with having firearms in the home — above and beyond the risk of unauthorized access by children," he added.

"Second, we need to create more ready and equitable access to gun safes so that the available locking options align better with the preferences of firearm owners,” Anestis concluded.

The findings were published online March 2 in JAMA Network Open. The study was funded by the U.S. Defense Health Agency.

More information

The American Academy of Pediatrics has more on safe storage of firearms.

SOURCE: Rutgers University, news release, March 2, 2023

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