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Am Fam Physician. 2002;65(2):302-304

Firearm injuries are one of the leading causes of death and nonfatal injuries in young people. In the United States, approximately 6,000 people younger than 20 years die each year as a result of firearm injuries, and about four times that number are wounded, disfigured, or disabled. Many of these cases are unintentional injuries or suicides with firearms that are obtained from home. Despite safety messages, a significant number of adult gun owners keep their weapons loaded or unlocked, or both. Gun safety is an important subject to review with patients in the office setting, but study results indicate that this action has little impact on gun safety. Coyne-Beasley and associates studied the impact of a community-based firearm safety and gun lock distribution program on the storage practices of gun owners.

The project was a community-based firearm safety counseling and gun lock distribution program. The program was led by a law enforcement officer and a pediatrician. Support was sought from local politicians and community organizations. The study took place in an urban county in central North Carolina, where gun ownership is estimated to be 40 to 50 percent. The participants were adult gun owners who were recruited through a mass media campaign. The intervention included a survey before the program began, tailored counseling based on the survey responses, gun safety information, provision of a gun lock, and instructions for using the lock. The main outcome measures were firearm storage practices at baseline and six months after the intervention.

The majority of gun owners stated that they owned a gun for protection. The results of the follow-up survey at six months showed that the gun owners increased their use of locked storage for their firearms and separate storage for ammunition. Seventy-two percent reported using the gun lock, a number that rose from zero before the intervention. The percentage of participants who continued to store their firearms unlocked and loaded decreased from 18 to 7 percent. Participants who had children in the house were much more likely to respond positively to the safety message and gun lock program.

The authors conclude that a community-based firearm safety counseling and gun lock distribution program is an effective method of reducing the number of firearms that are stored loaded and unlocked. The use of broad public support for the program added to the success. In addition, a tailored firearm safety counseling program can be performed based on an assessment of the owner's current understanding of safety issues. Longer follow-up, validation of safer storage practices and correct use of gun locks, and monitoring of firearm injury rates in areas using these programs is necessary to establish the full public health potential of this approach.

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