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Safely Securing and Storing Guns Saves Lives

As a pediatrician at Washington’s only Level I trauma center for children and adults, I often see firsthand the devastating consequences of our national epidemic of gun violence. Part of my job at Harborview Medical Center is to help care for the victims of firearm injuries. In both young children and adolescents, these incidents are nearly always because a gun in the home had not been safely secured and stored.

Time and time again, we see young children gaining access to guns who did not understand the consequences of an accidental discharge, or treat adolescents after suicide attempts with a parent’s unsecured gun. These injuries are often life-changing if not life-ending for the child and the family.

We know that safe storage of guns helps prevent tragedies.  A study conducted here at the Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center found that safe storage of guns decreased the risk of accidental firearm injuries and suicides to youth by 73%.  If both guns and ammunition were locked up, this decreased the risk by 78%.  For both rifles and handguns, safe storage is effective.

The data overwhelmingly supports the safe storage of guns:

  • A report by the US Secret Service found that in 65% of school shootings, the shooter used a gun obtained from his or her own home. This was true of the 2014 tragic shooting at Marysville High school
  • Each year in our country, approximately 2,000 children are killed or seriously wounded in an accidental shooting.
  • Each year, there are over 380,000 guns reported stolen in the U.S. Stolen guns are much more likely to be used in crime.
  • How someone chooses to try to commit suicide matters. In the U.S., 60% of gun deaths are suicides; in the state of Washington, it is 75%. Here in Seattle, 93% of suicide attempts with guns result in death, while only 2% of attempts with medications result in death
  • In 2015, approximately 21% of King County adults (340,000 people) reported that firearms were present in or around their homes. Among these adults, an estimated 31% (105,000 people) stored firearms loaded and an estimated 43% (150,000 people) stored firearms unlocked. Approximately 15% (51,000 people) of firearm owners reported storing them loaded and unlocked.

Requiring guns to be safely locked in no way violates Second Amendment rights.  In its Heller decision, the Supreme Court reaffirmed individuals’ rights to own guns.  But we can all agree that guns should not get into the hands of those who could use them to harm themselves or others.  Having guns stored in a lockbox still allows the gun to be available for self-protection by the owner.  The quick pushbutton locks allow access to the gun by an authorized, legal user within seconds.

That’s why this new safe storage ordinance proposed by Mayor Durkan will make our children and our communities safer.

These policies have been enacted based on research outlining the magnitude of the gun problem here in Seattle, King County and the State.  Unfortunately, for the last 22 years, since 1996, Congress has prevented the Centers for Disease Control, our nation’s prevention agency, from studying policies that can reduce the more than 30,000 deaths that occur each year in our country from gunshots.

After the tragedy in Newtown, Seattle became the first City in the country to fund research on reducing gun violence. Along with her action on safe storage, the Mayor’s commitment today to investing in our research will allow us to continue our work in understanding what else our leaders can do to save lives.


Dr. Fred Rivara, MD, MPH
Professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine
Dr. Rivara holds the Seattle Children’s Guild Association Endowed Chair in Pediatrics, and is Professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine. His contributions to the field of injury control have spanned 30 years. He served as founding director of the Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center in Seattle for 13 years, and continues to work on reducing the toll of injuries and violence.