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Women Are Often Unaware of Presence and Unsafe Storage of Guns in Their Homes

Boston, MA--Though women often have primary responsibility for children, researchers at the Harvard Injury Control Research Center at the Harvard School of Public Health have found that women with children who live in a household where someone else owns a gun may not be aware that a gun is present in the home or that the gun is stored in a manner which experts agree is unsafe.

From a random digit dial telephone survey of 2521 households, researchers selected 434 households with children under the age of 18, in which the respondent either reported personally owning a gun or living with someone who owned a gun. Although researchers were not able to compare responses from adults who owned guns and those who didn’t in the same household, they compared responses from households with similar demographics, except for gender and age.

Researchers found a significant reporting gap between those who responded that they did not own a gun (about 85% female) and those respondents who stated they personally owned a gun. While 21% of gun owners said that there was currently a household gun stored loaded and 9% reported that a gun was stored both loaded and unlocked, only 7% of those living with a gun owner reported that there was a loaded gun in the home, and 2% of this group reported a loaded and unlocked gun.

About 70% of those respondents living with a gun owner reported that there was only one gun in the house, while 57% of those who owned guns only reported one gun in the house. Asked about the presence, in particular, of handguns in the home, 51% of those who didn’t personally own guns stated there were no handguns in the house, while 31% of those who owned guns stated there were no handguns in the house.

"Without good information regarding household firearms, the ability of primary caretakers, usually women, to safeguard their children from gun injuries may well be compromised," said Deborah Azrael, research specialist at the Harvard School of Public Health and lead author. Recent evidence suggests that more than 75 percent of the firearms used in childhood and adolescent suicide attempts and accidental shootings were stored in the home of the victim or in a relative or friend’s home.

The report, "Are Household Firearms Stored Safely? It Depends on Whom You Ask," was published in the Pediatrics Electronic Pages in September. In additional findings, researchers reported that among gun owners only, women and those who lived in the South were significantly more likely to store a gun loaded, as were those who reported owning a gun for protection. Gun owners with children under the age of 13 were less likely than those with teenage children to store a gun loaded and unlocked.

"There appears to be an acute need for pediatric and other interventions to include information about the costs and benefits of owning a gun and storing a gun loaded and to identify non-gun owning parents in gun-owning households who have incomplete or inaccurate knowledge about guns in their home," said Azrael.

For further information, please contact:

Robin Herman
Director of Communications
Office of Communications
Harvard School of Public Health
677 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA 02115
Phone: 617-432-4752
Email: rherman@hsph.harvard.edu