We Need Safe Storage Laws for Firearms
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- That America has 300 million or more firearms in private hands is worrying. That many — perhaps most — of those guns aren’t properly secured is madness.
Owning a gun increases the risk of homicide, suicide and unintentional shooting. Strikingly, though, more than half of gun owners report failing to use safe-store practices for their guns, such as a gun safe, cabinet, case, or a lock on the firearm itself.
Worse, according to a national survey conducted in 2015, about two in 10 gun-owning households with children store at least one weapon in the least safe manner — loaded and unlocked. That means that about 7 percent of U.S. children, some 4.6 million, are living with a daily risk that is lethal, persistent and inexcusable.
The results are predictable — and grim. So far in 2019, there have been at least 134 shootings by children. Most guns used in school shootings come from the assailant’s home. In addition, hundreds of thousands of unsecured firearms are stolen each year, fueling crime.
It’s past time to get serious about locking these guns down. But policy makers haven’t exactly made the issue a priority. Remarkably, if not surprisingly, there are no federal standards for firearm locks, and no federal requirements for guns to be stored safely, a dereliction of duty as stark as any in Washington. About a dozen states have laws on locking firearms. Just over half the states have child access prevention laws that assign liability if a minor accesses a gun. But few of these laws are rigorous enough to encourage safe practices.
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A few places, though, are starting to make progress. Connecticut strengthened its law this year by requiring gun owners to store their weapons — even if unloaded — securely, to ensure that someone under 18 cannot access them. Nevada recently enacted a similar measure. The nation’s strictest gun-storage law belongs to Massachusetts, which is the only state that requires firearms to be stored in a locked container or equipped with a tamper-resistant lock or safety device when the gun is not in use.
Getting more states — and the federal government — on board shouldn’t be too much to ask. Although too little research has been done on the most effective storage policies, the general direction for lawmakers is clear: Locking up guns makes Americans, especially children, safer. An analysis published in May concluded that even modest success in motivating adults who live in homes with youths to lock up their firearms could prevent up to 32 percent of youth firearm deaths.
One good way to motivate citizens to do the right thing? Enact a law.
—Editors: Francis Wilkinson, Clive Crook.
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