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Study: Majority of gun owners don’t safely store firearms in Washington

(KIRO 7)

The majority of firearms in Washington state are not safely stored, according to a new study out of the University of Washington.

The study was done as part of research into suicides and suicide prevention. Guns are the primary method of suicide for men in Washington and the second most common method for women.

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“Access to lethal means it is part of what’s fueling suicides,” said lead author Erin Morgan, a doctoral student in the Department of Epidemiology.

“Public health workers, emergency responders, and policymakers should push to tailor suicide interventions and trainings for safe storage practices, with suicide risk and firearm access in mind,” she said. “Temporarily restricting access to a firearm for someone at risk is an opportunity to save a life.”

The study published in the American Journal of Public Health states that 63 percent of Washington gun owners do not store their firearms locked and unloaded. The study looks into suicide risk behaviors in 35,000 Washington households with and without firearms. Those behaviors include safe storage of guns. Also, alcohol use and mental health factors. Researchers considered data from the 2013, 2015, and 2016 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, which is a national telephone survey.

  • About 34 percent of survey respondents live with a firearm in their Washington home. These respondents tend to be older, white, male, retired, and married.
  • Out of the group with guns in the home, 37 percent said that firearms are kept locked and unloaded. This group tended to be younger, female, college graduates, and with children under the age of 18.
  • This means 63 percent of surveyed Washington households had guns stored either loaded, unlocked, or both loaded and unlocked.
  • The study found no differences in mental health indicators between gun-owning, and non-gun-owning residents.
  • One indicator, however, stood out: Binge and chronic alcohol use were more prevalent in homes with firearms that were not locked and unloaded.

The study concludes: “Variability in mental health does not explain the substantial increased suicide risk among individuals in firearm-owning households. Greater prevalence of alcohol misuse among adults in firearm-owning households not practicing safe storage highlights the need for suicide prevention interventions.”

According to the University of Washington:

The study recommends all states collect data inquiring about firearm ownership and storage practices via the CDC system. The practice was once standard nationally but has not been performed in many states in 14 years. Clinicians can also play a role in suicide risk intervention by discussing firearms and safety practices with their patients. Finally, community-based and national campaigns can educate firearm owners about safe storage practices.

The UW study was primarily funded by Washington’s Grandmothers Against Gun Violence.

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