A recent survey from APM Research Lab, Call To Mind and Guns & America found that most Americans — including those who own guns and those who don’t — support laws requiring gun owners to store their firearms with a lock in place.
But not everyone sees storage the same way.
What The Survey Found
The survey found that nearly eight in 10 Americans support mandating that guns are stored with a lock in place. The survey interviewed over 1,000 people, including participants from different ethnicities, political backgrounds and geographic regions.
The level of support differed among some groups. Separated by gender, 83% of women supported a gun storage mandate, compared with 74% of men.
Among political backgrounds, nearly seven in 10 Republicans supported a locked gun mandate, compared with nearly eight in 10 Independents and nine in 10 Democrats.
Of participants living in metropolitan areas, 81% supported a safe storage law, compared with 68% living outside a metropolitan area.
What Safe Storage Laws Look Like
Eleven states have laws regarding firearm storage devices. Massachusetts is the only state that requires that all firearms are stored with a lock in place. Other states, including California and New York, require gun owners to store their weapons with a lock in place if the gun owner lives with a convicted felon or domestic abuser.
Harry Wilson is the Director of the Institute of Policy and Opinion Research at Roanoke College. He doesn’t believe safe storage laws are effective.
“The guns I have in my house, I can store them any way I want, for as long as I live here,” Wilson said. “No one is going to come and check to see if I’m in compliance with any law or not in compliance with any law.”
To his point, in states with safe storage laws or child access prevention laws, police officers don’t knock on gun owners’ doors to see if their guns are locked up. These laws are often implemented only after a child uses or carries a gun.
Deb Azrael is the Director of Harvard’s Injury Research Control Center. She said there is evidence these laws save lives, especially children’s lives.
“We know that if guns aren’t accessible to children, fewer children die,” Azrael said.
In 2005, David Grossman, a senior investigator at Kaiser Permanente Washington, led a study looking at how gun storage practices affected the risk of youth suicide and unintentional firearm injuries. His team found that keeping a gun locked, unloaded, storing ammunition locked and in a separate location were each associated with “a protective effect for unintentional firearm shootings and suicide attempts among adolescents and children.”
And in 2019, a study from the T. H. Chan Harvard School of Public Health found that safe storage of guns could reduce teen and childhood firearm deaths by a third.
Azrael said mandating safe gun storage can signify bigger social sentiment.
“Laws often signal social norms,” Azrael said. “And so a law like [a safe storage law] could very well exert an effect by making it clear that social norms around gun ownership should include storing those guns unloaded and locked up with the ammunition stored separately.”
Safety Precautions For A Dangerous Tool
Denise Zavaleta lives with her husband and 12-year-old twin boys, Nick and Jack, in Durham, North Carolina. She grew up about 60 miles away on a farm in rural Randolph County.
“The way I was raised is my daddy literally had shotguns, and his guns were his daddy’s guns,” Zavaleta said. “And they would be loaded, and they would be behind at least the front door, the side door and the back door.”
She said her family used firearms as a tool to protect the farm from coyotes and foxes. Apart from hunting with her family, she didn’t interact with the firearms in her house.
“It was a job that I didn’t do, so it was a tool that I didn’t touch,” Zavaleta said.
When she grew older and moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, she decided to buy her own firearms. But she said she didn’t enjoy shooting at the range as much as she thought she would. Her safety concerns also changed when she moved to the suburbs.
“Where we live here, when houses are broken into, it’s most often when there’s no one home,” Zavaleta said. “I’m more likely to let them just take the TV … It’s not worth their lives, even if they’re a criminal breaking into my house.”
She said they have guns in the attic secured in a locked footlocker, but she said they’re rusty and un-usable. The guns that she does keep for self-defense are secured in a safe, locked with a key that she keeps with her and a combination lock.
“So, if [the boys are] ever here home alone, they don’t have the key. If they ever went and got the key, they don’t have the combination,” Zavaleta said.
She said because she has two sons, she takes storage very seriously. Zavaleta said she is in favor of safe storage laws.
“For me, I think it’s only right to say that you have a tool that can be harmful, therefore there should be safety precautions that are required,” she said.
Not All Gun Owners Agree With Safe Storage Laws
In spite of overwhelming support for safe storage laws, the APM Research Lab, Call To Mind and Guns & America survey found two in 10 gun owners oppose a law mandating safe storage.
Dwayne Dixon shares that sentiment. He is a gun owner from Durham, North Carolina, and lives with his wife and young daughter.
Dixon grew up on an Army base where guns were stored away from living quarters. Now, he keeps most of his guns locked up when he’s not using them for skeet or target shooting. But he does keep one on him, concealed, most of the time.
“I store my guns in a way that is inert and safe, except for firearms that I may need immediate access to,” Dixon explained.
Dixon feels that the government shouldn’t tell him how to store his firearms since he is a responsible gun owner. He believes gun owners have firearms for various reasons and a blanket policy might not capture those nuances.
“First, people have to decide whether they need to lock up their guns,” Dixon said. “I mean, if the person is trained and is competent and has control over their weapon, then they don’t need to have it locked up and the ammo separate.”
Dixon said he also wants to be aware of his mental state when his guns are within reach. Two-thirds of gun deaths are suicides.
“And so self-awareness is really important all the time with a dangerous tool, whether that be a backhoe or a circular saw or a shotgun,” Dixon said.
It’s really important to him that he has a community he can rely on if he’s feeling depressed and can’t trust himself with his gun. But he believes he’ll take those steps if necessary and give his gun to a friend.
The APM Research // Guns & America // Call To Mind Survey
The survey of 1,009 Americans was conducted from July 16 to 21, 2019, by SSRS with live caller interviewers for APM Research Lab, a division of American Public Media that conducts research projects.
The poll has a margin of error of +/- 3.42 percentage points.
The poll was conducted just weeks before mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, and was done in partnership with Guns & America and Call To Mind, an initiative by American Public Media on mental health.
Guns & America is a public media reporting project on the role of guns in American life.