HOW MANY GUN OWNERS
STORE GUNS LOADED AND UNLOCKED?
(or leave 'em around for kids?)

rev. Oct 15, 2001

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To understand common claims and research about gun storage, you first need to understand something about child safety in conjunction with defensive use of guns in the home.

There have been one large scale study and a few small and tiny "studies" or surveys that are typically referenced, along with some unobtainable articles from "expert" child safety organizations like Prevention Magazine.  Discussion of some of these claims follows the discussions of the most-referenced studies.

One of the 7 major studies was one by douglas weil and david hemenway (both prolific gun control drivel creators) that was reported in a 1992 issue of the journal of the American medical association (jAma) under the title "Loaded Guns in the Home."  The second was reported by hemenway and a couple of female medical gun control trainees in a '95 issue of the jAma under the title "Firearm Training and Storage."

A small-scale study by 3 CDC doctors and 2 doctors from the Idaho and Oregon health departments was published in the May '99 issue of the Am. Journal of Preventive Medicine.  A study supposedly about firearm "storage" in homes with children during '94 was published in a '99 issue of the Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine.

The one large scale study was reportedly published in the April 2000 issue of the American Public Health Assn's "American Journal of Public Health."  Although this study could have been more important than the weil and hemenway studies because of the large number of people surveyed, its results are actually just as worthless because the questions asked were just as worthless.

Most recently, hemenway and his Harvard gun control doctors published another study, "Are Household Firearms Stored Safely?  It Depends on Whom You Ask" in the Sep 2000 issue of Pediatrics.

NSPOF

One of the 7 most valid studies was a study that also dealt with several other firearm issues.  This study, called the National Survey on Private Ownership (and Use) of Firearms (NSPOF), was an analysis (by gun controllers philip cook and young jens ludwig) of data collected by a survey conducted for the antigun "police foundation" using funding from the US Department of justice (Doj) National Institute of Justice (NIJ).  It is reported by NIJ report NCJ 165476, May 1997, "Guns in America:  National Survey on Private Ownership and Use of Firearms."  This is the same study that found a prevalence of defensive gun use about the same as Gary Kleck found, but explained the estimate away as being the result of the "false positives" hemenway had publicized among gun controllers the year before publication of the NIJ report.

You can get a copy of the NIJ report at their web site.

The report said that "20 percent of all gun-owning households had an unlocked, loaded gun in the home at the time of the survey" (meaning while the surveyed adult was at home with the gun and talking on the phone with the surveyor).  This figure was 30 percent for households with handguns, but only 7 percent for households that had only long guns, which would be be expected since most (not all) people who use a gun for home defense have acquired a handgun for that purpose.

Note that these statements of finding had nothing to do with storage; that a table (Exhibit 6) and the "key findings" in the report said "16 percent," not 20; and that the authors sloppily claimed as facts what were actually things that people had said when asked over the telephone.

What portion of the public might, if someone called them asking about having guns and "is it loaded now," think that the person calling them might be doing so to determine if he is talking to someone in a home that would be easy to victimize?  Suspicious people might, even if they didn't own a gun, say, "I have a big 22 magnum, I keep it loaded, and I keep it handy."

The report then said, "Slightly more than half of firearms .... were stored unlocked, but handguns were much more likely to be loaded. ...handguns were likely to be stored ... even on their persons."  Notice that the authors abruptly changed here from saying that the conditions being described applied at the time of the survey to saying stored.  Note, too, that the idea that people store guns on their person is absurd but that a person on the phone saying they have a gun on them at the time they are talking to a surveyor on the phone is realistic.  It is obvious that the authors represented answers about where a gun was at the moment as being about storage, which is the condition of a thing when it is not being used.  All the rest of their report had the same error/deception.

The authors, who have demonstrated that they don't understand about gun storage or are dishonest, continued:

Although training programs usually include suggestions on how to store guns safely, it does not appear that trainees are paying attention.  ... (56 percent) of owners had received some form of 'formal' training.... owners who received such training were no less likely than others to keep guns loaded and unlocked.  This surprising result is consistent with [hemenway, et.al.'s "Firearm Training and Storage" covered here].

Note that cook and ludwig (c-l) when faced with indication that a lot of trained people (442 out of 789) don't seem to be doing what c-l think they should be doing know that those people must be fouled up, rather than thinking maybe they (c-l) don't understand something, even though they have no experience with firearms.  Of course, their belief is supported by hemenway and crew that do exactly the same.  And c-l would have us believe that that bunch of respondents who knew enough to lie to give the impression that guns are used a lot for defense were still stupid enough to freely admit to storing their firearms unsafely.  Why did c-l not explain away the unsafe storage results as they had explained away the high defensive gun use results?

5 IGNORANT DOCTORS STUDY

A 1999 issue of Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine carried a report, "Firearm Storage Practices and Children in the Home, US, 1994."  This was a report on a "study" by Gail Stennies and 4 other ignorant doctors.  The report references all the studies discussed herein as showing one thing or another about "keeping" or "storing" guns even though none of those studies actually dealt with "keeping" or "storing."  Their "results" give some summary numbers of what they found about unsafe firearm storage in a telephone survey of 5238 households in '94.  Their "conclusion" explains how the study results justify doctors counseling their ignorant customers about firearm safety in the home.

Unfortunately, when one looks at the details of the survey one finds with this study too that the questions were not actually about storage.  Their first question was, "Are there any loaded or unloaded firearms in your home or the car, van, or truck you usually drive?" Note that they were asking an adult that was by definition home at the time if there was a firearm in the home or vehicle at the time.

Question 2:  "Are all of the loaded firearms in your home stored in a locked place....?"  Although the question says it's about "stored," the question is about how the gun(s) are at the time while the adult being surveyed is there with the gun(s).  If the respondent had her gun out, unlocked and loaded at the time she was asked the question and she answered "no" because she did not consider the gun to be "stored," her answer would be interpreted by the doctors as meaning that she stores her gun loaded and unlocked.

Question 3:  "Is the ammunition for any of those unloaded and unlocked firearms stored in the same room as the firearms?"  Although this question strictly speaking asks about "stored," it also asks about the state of the ammunition at the time, and is also part of a series of questions that ask about where and how things are "right now."  If the respondent actually paid any attention to the "stored," he/she would have been faced with a dilemma since storage and where something is right now are not the same thing.

Question 4:  "Is the ammunition stored in a locked or unlocked place?"  Again, the respondent has a dilemma if the ammunition is in use at the moment rather than being "stored."

Immediately after explaining these questions, the study report says, "Firearm storage practices were defined according to known loaded status of the firearm(s), known locked status of firearm(s) and ammunition, and storage of the ammunition.  In other words, for the analysis part of the study, the doctors considered the answers to those questions that were not all clearly about storage as being about storage practices.

Their results had nothing to do with storage, or about where/how guns/ammo are when adults aren't in control of them, just as is the case with the other studies discussed.

Household firearm storage practices:  Do responses differ by whether or not individuals ever use firearms?

This study published in the May '99 issue of the Am. Journal of Preventive Medicine was an analysis of data from '92 and '93 Oregon survey data.  According to the report abstract, the doctors compared reported firearm "storage" (?) practices between people who had reportedly used firearms and people who had (reportedly) never used a firearm.  They found that nonusers were .36 to .57 as likely as firearm users to report (what the doctors thought to mean) that the people at times "stored" a firearm loaded and unlocked.  They suggested that "[N]onusers of household firearms may be unaware that firearms are stored loaded or stored loaded and unlocked in their homes."  They concluded that surveys that don't consider user-nonuser status "may underestimate household exposure to loaded firearms or to loaded and unlocked firearms.

The abstract doesn't state the precise questions asked of the respondents, so it is not possible to determine for certain if the questions are actually about storage.  However, the abstract's reference to respondents answering about whether or not "firearms were always or sometimes stored... " suggests that the questions were probably the same as in weil and hemenway's '92 study--and those were not about storage.  But, the study's results are actually about the difference between responses of two groups, rather than the prevalence of unsafe storage.

What about their finding?  Assume that you're a male gun owner who uses the gun for home protection.  You're at home and have unlocked your gun, loaded it, and stashed it somewhere near you so you can be prepared if someone attacks you or your family in your home.  Someone calls you on the telephone and asks if you have a gun stored loaded and unlocked.  You honestly say "yes" because the gun is stashed for the moment, even though it is not really "stored."  So the doctors think you store a gun unsafely.

But what if you aren't home at the time?  Your wife is home.  As happens in many families, she doesn't use your gun because she isn't trained with it.  So the gun is unloaded, locked, and truly stored.  The doctors' pollster calls on the telephone and asks your wife if there is a gun stored loaded and unlocked (the same question).  She answers "no" because she knows that you unload the gun and lock it before storing it.  The doctors decide that she thinks the gun is stored safely even though their responses from gun users (owners) tell them (incorrectly) that the gun likely isn't stored safely.

Multiply this scenario by the large number of responses the doctors get, and the doctors naturally (but incorrectly) think that women are ill informed about the storage of their husbands' guns, and that women generally think everything is OK although it isn't really.  The doctors think the public is fouled up although the real problem is just that the doctors don't know the difference between "store" and standby use.

"It Depends on Whom You Ask"

The telephone survey on which this hemenway 2000 study was based actually involved asking questions about "storage."  Unfortunately, the questions were about currently stored, so respondents would have the same dilemma as for the other studies discussed on this site.  Specifically, respondents would be confused about whether the questions were about the states of the guns at the moment or about whether or not the guns were stored.

The survey was of gun-owning households that included "children" under 18 years old.  Because of the small sample size and the high variability of the responses, hemenway and his crew didn't determine much even about what they actually asked about.  They found that people who said they owned a gun for protection were more likely than others to report what the doctors interpreted as storing guns loaded and unlocked.  They found that people in households with younger children were less likely to do so.  Their other results about storage were not solidly positive or negative.

However, the doctors did find that gun owners tended somewhat to say more than the non-owners that the household had a handgun and that the household had multiple firearms.  Gun owners tended strongly to say that they had firearms training and that a firearm was loaded or loaded and unlocked in what the doctors interpreted as "storage."  In other words, these doctors came to the same erroneous conclusion, about different perceptions of owners and non-owners, as for the study reported above--for the same reason.

CONCLUSION

Of the 7 largest scale studies about the extent to which gun owners leave unlocked guns around for kids to access, or unsafely "store" guns loaded and/or unlocked, there was not a one that actually dealt reliably with UNSUPERVISED ACCESS or STORAGE!  The studies were good studies.  They just weren't about storage or where/how guns and ammo are when adults aren't around to control access to them.  So nobody--including all the gun controllers, medicos and media--have any idea how often kids have free access to guns or how often gun owners store their guns loaded or unlocked.  We do know, however, that the truth is something less than the claims they make.  Because all the studies have the same deficiency, it is apparent that whatever part of the medical academic community is involved in gun research is essentially ignorant of firearms use, or is dishonest.

THE LESSER GUN CONTROLLER REFERENCES

First, there were three surveys referenced in the two studies introduced at the beginning of this article.  Two of them were apparently not published, so getting them would take big effort.  The other was a small 1987 study on which GunsAndCrime.org may eventually be able to get the report.  However, all three were discussed somewhat by the already mentioned two studies and therefore critiqued somewhat in our critiques of those studies.  So it is unlikely that any of the three would add anything to our knowledge of firearm access control and storage

In late 1997, HCI had on their web site a page "Child Safety Lock Legislation."  About "how accessible are firearms to juveniles," it said:

"45% of parents say they have a gun in the house according to Prevention magazine's Children's Health Index 1996.  12% of the gun-owning parents surveyed report[ed] that the gun is [was] accessible (not safely [or otherwise] stored), meaning that as many as one in every 10 children have direct access to a gun.  According to the same survey, nearly one-half (47%) of all children age 10 to 17 say there is a gun in their household and about one-half (51%) of those who have a gun in their home say they could get to it.  Consequently, one quarter (24%) of all children age 10 to 17 indicate that they have access to a gun in their home.

The publication seems to be one that was printed one year and maybe sold at grocery stores with the other paperbacks for mommies.  We haven't been able to find one.  Note that taking 12% of the 45% yields .054, which is one in 18.5, not one in 10, so the one in 10 doesn't follow from the earlier numbers.  More importantly, note that the "is accessible" implies that the parents were asked, "is the gun accessible"--which means the question was actually about the state of the gun at the time the parent was home WITH THE GUN.  So the answers didn't indicate that any children had "direct access."  And, what portion of those children who claimed access were 17-year-old boys bragging?  Finally, is the gun they may have access to unsecured?

The HCI page continued:

"According to a 1996 Louis Harris Poll, more than half of the teens (53%) who live in homes where there is a handgun or rifle [say they] believe that if they wanted to, they could get the weapon without their parents' knowledge.....

"According to the Healthy People 2000 survey, 20% of the population had firearms that were stored either loaded or unlocked.  The year 2000 objective is a 20% reduction.

"A 1992 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association reveals that some 30% of families [households] with children keep loaded guns in the home [at times].  A subsequent study by one of the same authors concludes that 14% of gun owners living with children kept [actually, had at the moment] a gun both loaded and unlocked."

Which poll?  Reported in what publication, when?  We haven't located the Harris poll yet, but it is only about what some teens said.  How did Healthy People 2000 determine the 20%?  We haven't found a document with this info on their web site.  The info is the same as can be derived from weil and hemenways' 1992 results in which 40% of those "gun owners" who answered that they "sometimes keep gun loaded" or "always keep gun loaded" also answered that they did not lock up a gun when they were not using it.  And, of course, the medicos that created Healthy People 2000 think that those answers about "keep" mean that the guns are loaded while laying around the house where children can get them.  It is probable that the Healthy People 2000 citation is just a duplicate citation of the flawed weil-hemenway study.

As for the two jAma articles, they are the worthless ones by weil-hemenway and hemenway and his gun-control trainees, the results of which are misrepresented by HCI either purposely or out of misunderstanding.

One of the "fact-like" things (i.e., "factoids") stated in some gun control literature and at gun control web sites is, "an estimated 1.2 million elementary-school-age [or "latchkey"] kids come home to a house with a gun and no parent.  One version of this said the kids "have access to guns when they come home."  We haven't located what this supposedly came from since the citations are incomplete, but we think we may find it under reports or communications from CDC in some '90 jAma issue.  At any rate, you'll note that the statements don't say there is any evidence that any of those kids can get their hands on the guns or if any of the guns are unlocked, even though one of the versions try to make people think so by saying the kids have access.

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"KEEP" AND OTHER FORMS OF THE VERB

In the sense in which the word "keep" is used in most of the medical and gun control literature about storage, it means (as a verb):  "maintain" [something (object), in a specified condition]; "cause" [something] "to be" [in a specified condition]; or "cause" [something] "to remain" [in a specified condition].  Their usage and that given in a dictionary definition of "keep" would look like:

      KEEP  [A GUN]     [LOADED/UNLOCKED]

      KEEP  [OBJECT]    [CONDITION]

The meaning includes a sense of absolute.  Proper usage of the word would include saying "keep a gun loaded," which would mean that the gun was always loaded, or saying "keep a gun unloaded," which would mean that the gun was always unloaded." To "sometimes keep" and "never keep" are illogical constructions when "keep" is used in this sense (as opposed to "keep" bees or time).

A gun owner saying she keeps a gun loaded, and saying nothing further, would mean that the gun is always loaded, whether stored or not.  There would be no point to saying "always."  An owner would say she sometimes keeps a gun loaded only if some other constraint was stated or implied.  For example, saying she sometimes keeps a gun loaded at home would mean that sometimes when she comes home she loads the gun and keeps it that way for the duration of her stay at home.  And a gun owner would never say she "never keeps a gun loaded," because that would mean that the gun was never loaded.

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