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Am Fam Physician. 2003;67(1):182

Each year, a substantial number of deaths and injuries in the United States result from firearm use. Persons younger than 20 years account for almost 12 percent of deaths from firearms, and nonfatal firearm-related injuries in this age group are four to five times more common than firearm fatalities. In response to these numbers, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that households with children or adolescents not have firearms. If firearms are kept in these households, the AAP recommends that they be stored unloaded and locked up, with the ammunition locked up separately. Despite these recommendations, firearms are still being stored improperly in homes. Sanguino and colleagues explored the quality and type of handgun safety information provided to consumers by licensed gun dealers at the time of purchase.

The study included licensed handgun dealers in two metropolitan areas, including gun shops, pawnshops, general merchandise stores, and sporting goods stores. While posing as consumers interested in a first-time purchase of a handgun, the investigators performed a cross-sectional, semi-structured, interactive on-site interview with the sales staff. During the interview, the investigators informed the salespersons that this would be their first handgun and that they had a four-year-old child and needed suggestions about keeping the child safe with a handgun in the house. During the interview, the researchers collected data on the type of store, the sex and approximate age of the dealer, opinions on whether a four-year-old child could pull the trigger, handgun safety advice and recommendations, and the type of safety devices and handgun safety materials that were available in the store.

The investigators made 96 visits to gun dealers. Trigger locks were the most common safety devices found in the stores; these were available in 72 percent of stores and visible in 53 percent. When asked the question, “What do I need to know about purchasing a handgun?” only 15 percent of the gun dealers mentioned safe storage. Only nine of the dealers offered safety advice consistent with the AAP recommendations, such as keeping the gun securely locked, keeping the gun unloaded, and storing the gun separately from the ammunition. Approximately one third of the gun dealers said they did not know whether a four-year-old child had the ability to pull the trigger. Printed safety education material on handgun storage was available in only 8 percent of stores.

The authors conclude that salespersons provide potential buyers with little or no education about safe storage of handguns, and the information provided is often inconsistent with current AAP recommendations. The authors recommend that handgun safety advocate groups and handgun dealers explore a partnership to provide appropriate safety information at the point of handgun purchase.

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