Saddened by Wednesday’s shooting at Freeman High School in Rockford, Washington, where one student has been accused of killing a classmate and wounding three others, HIPRC core member and pediatrician Fred Rivara, M.D., MPH, is calling on parents and communities to take safe gun storage more seriously.
Calling “unbridled access to guns” a serious problem, Rivara said restricting gun access through safe gun storage helps prevent gun deaths from homicides, suicides and accidents among children and adolescents.
“Your guns need to be stored safely. That means having them locked up, the ammunition locked up separate from the guns, and not having the key or the combination available,” he said in an interview with UW Medicine. “Everyone should be involved with safe storage for guns.”
Even parents who don’t own guns should ask other parents whether they have guns and how they are stored before allowing their children to visit their home, he said.
Several studies have explored the relationship between gun storage practices and negative outcomes, including suicide and unintentional injury.
“Gun storage practices and risk of youth suicide and unintentional firearm injuries,” published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2005, found that each of four studied safe storage techniques had a protective effect on children and adolescents in the home. Based on the study, recommended practices include:
- Keep guns locked.
- Store guns unloaded.
- Lock ammunition.
- Store guns and ammunition separately.
The study examined suicide and unintentional firearm deaths and injuries in Washington, Oregon and Missouri. Cases in the study included 81 suicide attempts, of which 95 percent were fatal. Of the 25 unintentional injuries included, 52 percent were fatal.
In addition to practicing safe storage, researchers have also called on firearm owners to learn about warning signs and prevention around suicide. HIPRC Violence Prevention lead Ali Rowhani-Rahbar, M.D., Ph.D., MPH, authored a study earlier this year that found only 15 percent of gun owners reported having received information about suicide prevention.
Safer gun storage, Rivara said, is key to helping prevent future tragedies.
“We know that gun safe storage works,” he said. “Now we need to use it.”
More information on safe gun storage is available from King County’s LOK-IT-UP program.