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Am Fam Physician. 2006;74(11):1957-1958

Approximately one third of U.S. households with children and adolescents contain firearms. Despite recommendations to keep these firearms stored unloaded and locked, a significant number of households store them loaded or unlocked, substantially increasing the risk that children or adolescents will accidentally or intentionally use a firearm to cause injury. Parents tend to assume that older children will act more responsibly, and studies have evaluated safe firearm storage according to the age of the children in the home. However, no studies have addressed individually the issues of storing firearms unloaded and of storing them in a locked place. Johnson and associates evaluated these individual safety issues in households with children or adolescents.

The study included a randomized national sample of adults who completed a phone survey. The study instrument consisted of 100 items including attitudes and beliefs about firearms, firearm ownership, storage practices, and household member demographics. Only those who reported having a firearm in the household and who had at least one child younger than 18 years living in the household were included in the study. The children were divided into three age groups: younger than five years, five to 12 years, and 13 to 17 years. The authors compared firearm safety among the three age groups and compared the 13- to 17-year-old group with those younger than 13 years. The main outcome measure was prevalence of firearms that are stored loaded and/or unlocked in homes.

Overall, 21.7 percent had a loaded firearm in the house, 31.5 percent had an unlocked firearm, and 8.3 percent had a loaded and unlocked firearm. When comparing these rates among age groups, parents with adolescents (13 to 17 years of age) were most likely to store their firearms unsafely.

The authors conclude that parents of adolescents are less likely to store their firearms safely compared with parents of younger children. They add that these results are worrying because a significant number of firearm injuries occur in the adolescent age group. The authors suggest that firearm prevention programs focus on parents with adolescent children to improve safety practices.

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