City leaders and their partners should encourage and educate gun owners and the general public about secure gun storage to make their homes and communities safer. They should also provide gun owners with the tools to securely store their guns. Such education, outreach, and tools are essential to protecting children and families in cities of all sizes. Access to a gun, irrespective of age, triples the risk of death by suicide, doubles the risk of death by homicide, and can lead to unintentional gun injuries or deaths.1Andrew Anglemyer, Tara Horvath, and George Rutherford, “The Accessibility of Guns and Risk for Suicide and Homicide Victimization Among Household Members: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis,” Annals of Internal Medicine 160, no. 2 (2014): 101–10, https://doi.org/10.7326/M13-1301; Matthew Miller et al., “Gun Storage Practices and Rates of Unintentional Gun Deaths in the United States,” Accident Analysis and Prevention 37 (2005): 661–67, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.aap.2005.02.003. Unsecured guns can also be stolen and used in crimes.2David Hemenway, Deborah Azrael, and Matthew Miller, “Whose Guns Are Stolen? The Epidemiology of Gun Theft Victims,” Injury Epidemiology 4, no. 1 (December 2017): 1–5, https://doi.org/10.1186/s40621-017-0109-8; Brian Freskos, “Missing Pieces: Gun theft from legal gun owners is on the rise, quietly fueling violent crime,” The Trace, November 20, 2017, https://bit.ly/2izST1h. But these risks can be mitigated by following secure gun storage practices—storing guns unloaded, locked, and separate from ammunition.
While millions of responsible gun owners do follow recommended storage practices, research shows that more than half of gun owners do not store all of their guns securely,3Cassandra K. Crifasi et al., “Storage Practices of US Gun Owners in 2016,” American Journal of Public Health 108, no. 4 (2018): 532–37, https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2017.304262. and an estimated 4.6 million children in the US live in households with at least one unlocked and loaded gun.4Matthew Miller and Deborah Azrael, “Firearm Storage in US Households with Children: Findings from the 2021 National Firearm Survey,” JAMA Network Open 5, no. 2 (2022): e2148823, https://doi.org/10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.48823. These numbers have likely increased because of the surge in gun sales during the COVID-19 pandemic—including an estimated 22 million guns sold during 2020, a 64 percent increase compared to 2019.5Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, “Gun Violence and COVID-19 in 2020: A Year of Colliding Crises,” May 7, 2021, https://everytownresearch.org/report/gun-violence-and-covid-19-in-2020-a-year-of-colliding-crises/. While gun owners may believe that their children do not know where they keep their gun(s) and that their child would never handle a gun without their knowledge, this is not always the case. A national survey found that more than half of teens reported they could access a loaded gun in their home in under an hour—with most of them saying they could access the gun in under five minutes.6Carmel Salhi, Deborah Azrael, and Matthew Miller, “Parent and Adolescent Reports of Adolescent Access to Household Guns in the United States,” JAMA Network Open 4, no. 3 (2021): e210989, https://doi.og/10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.0989.
Easy and unsupervised access to guns by children increases the risk for gun violence. Every year in the US, nearly 350 children under the age of 18 access a gun and unintentionally shoot themselves or someone else.7Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, “#NotAnAccident Index,” accessed March 26, 2021, https://everytownresearch.org/maps/notanaccident/. Everytown tracks unintentional shootings by children that result in death or injury. Everytown researchers continually review media reports to identify shootings in which a person age 17 or under unintentionally fires a gun and harms themselves or someone else. For each identified incident, the researchers review available public records and, when necessary, follow up with local law enforcement to ascertain details about the incident, including location, type of gun, and method of storage. Analysis includes incidents that occurred between 2015 and 2020. Another 700 children die by gun suicide.8Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, WONDER Online Database, Underlying Cause of Death. A yearly average was developed using five years of the most recent available data: 2016 to 2020. Children defined as ages 0 to 17. Seventy percent of unintentional shootings by children9Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, “Preventable Tragedies: Findings from the #NotAnAccident Index,” August 30, 2021, https://everytownresearch.org/report/notanaccident/. and over 85 percent of gun suicides involving a child10Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS), Ages 0-17, 2019. take place at a home. Unsecured guns also fuel gun violence outside the home. In incidents of gun violence on school grounds, up to 80 percent of shooters under the age of 18 obtained the gun(s) they used from their own home or the homes of relatives or friends.11Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, American Federation of Teachers, and National Education Association, “Keeping Our Schools Safe: A plan for preventing mass shootings and ending all gun violence in American schools,” February 2020, https://everytownresearch.org/school-safety-plan.
Cities, hospitals, libraries, schools, businesses, and community members can help educate gun owners about secure gun storage practices and encourage community members to have conversations about gun safety through educational campaigns, and by distributing free gun locks and spreading the word about the Be SMART program—a framework designed to help parents and adults act responsibly and normalize conversations about gun safety.
Research shows that secure gun storage can have a big impact on mitigating the risks of gun violence. One study found households that locked both guns and ammunition were associated with a 78 percent lower risk of self-inflicted gun injuries and an 85 percent lower risk of unintentional gun injuries among children, compared to those that locked neither.12David C. Grossman et al., “Gun Storage Practices and Risk of Youth Suicide and Unintentional Gun Injuries,” JAMA 293, no. 6 (2005): 707–14, https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.293.6.707.
Another study estimated that if at least half of households with children and at least one unlocked gun began locking all their guns, one-third of gun suicides and unintentional deaths involving youth could be prevented. This change would save an estimated 251 lives in a single year.13Michael C. Monuteaux, Deborah Azrael, and Matthew Miller, “Association of Increased Safe Household Gun Storage with Gun Suicide and Unintentional Death Among US Youths,” JAMA Pediatrics 173, no. 7 (2019): 657–62, https://doi.org/10.1001/jamapediatrics.2019.1078.
Secure gun storage not only protects children from accessing guns, but also ensures that guns do not end up in dangerous hands. It is estimated that 380,000 guns are stolen from private gun owners every year.14David Hemenway, Deborah Azrael, and Matthew Miller, “Whose Guns Are Stolen?” While most of these are stolen from homes, nearly one-quarter are taken from cars and other vehicles.15Lisa Stolzenberg and Stewart J. D’Alessio, “Gun Availability and Violent Crime: New evidence from the National Incident-based Reporting System,” Social Forces 78, no. 4 (June 2000): 1461–82, https://doi.org/10.2307/3006181; Everytown analyzed data obtained by The Trace from 1,054 law enforcement agencies in 36 states and Washington, DC. For the yearly comparison, Everytown narrowed the analysis of local data obtained by The Trace to 39 cities in 16 states based on the availability of data for all years between 2006 and 2015. https://bit.ly/2UmQhUX. Many of these stolen guns are trafficked or used in violent crimes. An analysis of more than 23,000 stolen guns recovered by police between 2010 and 2016 found that the majority of recovered weapons were found in connection with crimes, including more than 1,500 violent acts such as murder, kidnapping, and armed robbery.16Brian Freskos, “Missing Pieces.” Research suggests that gun owners are significantly less likely to have a gun stolen if they store all of their guns unloaded and locked.17David Hemenway, Deborah Azrael, and Matthew Miller, “Whose Guns Are Stolen?”
For secure gun storage outreach to be impactful, city leaders must focus efforts on adults—both those who own guns and those who don’t—because it is always the responsibility of an adult to prevent unsupervised access to guns, not a curious child’s responsibility to avoid guns. One study found that young children who go through a week-long gun safety training are just as likely as children with no training to approach or play with a handgun when they find one.18Marjorie S. Hardy, “Teaching gun Safety to Children: Failure of a Program,” Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics 23, no. 2 (April 2002): 71–76, https://doi.org/10.1097/00004703-200204000-00002. Talking to children about guns is a precaution, not a guarantee of safety. Programs that focus solely on teaching children not to touch guns without permission and to alert an adult if they find a gun are not nearly sufficient to reduce unsupervised access to guns by children. However, research shows that secure gun storage can play a vital role in reducing unintentional gun injuries and deaths among children, as well as gun self-injuries and gun suicides among young people.19Rosanna Smart et al., “The Science of Gun Policy: A critical synthesis of research evidence on the effects of gun policies in the United States,” Second Edition, Chapter 17: Child-Access Prevention Laws, (RAND Corporation, 2020), https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR2088-1.html.
Strategy in Practice
City leaders should strive to communicate a clear and simple message to community members and gun owners on the importance of secure gun storage. Messaging focusing on these three steps to securely store guns has been effective in communities across the country.20Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, “Unload, Lock, And Separate: Secure Storage Practices To Reduce Gun Violence,” September 3, 2019, https://everytownresearch.org/report/unload-lock-and-separate-secure-storage-practices-to-reduce-gun-violence.
- Unload the ammunition, including any chambered rounds.
- Lock unloaded guns with a jacket lock or another type of locking device, and then place the gun in a locked location such as a safe. The most secure types of locked locations require a key, combination, or biometric (such as fingerprint recognition) to gain access.
- Store ammunition in a secure location that is separate from the gun.
The Be SMART campaign and the Gun Shop Project are two examples of programs that use some version of the above three steps in their community outreach messaging. This messaging has also been adopted by School Boards that have passed resolutions requiring schools to educate parents on secure gun storage around the country.21Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund, “1 Million Students Nationwide Now Attend Schools with Gun Storage Awareness Policy,” press release, March 13, 2020, https://bit.ly/3g4HVzr.
Be SMART was launched by Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America in May 2015, to raise awareness that secure gun storage can save children’s lives. The initiative encourages parents and caretakers to “Be SMART” and take these five simple steps to help prevent shootings by children:
- Secure all guns in your homes and vehicles;
- Model responsible behavior around guns;
- Ask about unsecured guns in other homes;
- Recognize the role of guns in suicide;
- Tell your peers to Be SMART.
The campaign is neutral on the topic of gun ownership—it does not promote or discourage individuals from owning guns—and does not advocate for changes to gun laws. Be SMART emphasizes that it’s an adult responsibility to keep kids from accessing guns, and that every adult can play a role in keeping kids and communities safe.
There are many ways city leaders can help spread the word about secure storage through Be SMART. Be SMART volunteers and other gun safety advocates have created partnerships with local officials and public and private entities to increase awareness of secure storage practices and their impact:
- In Bexar County, Texas, city leaders partnered with VIA Metropolitan Transit to receive a $40,000 in-kind donation to advertise the Be SMART message on buses and distribute Be SMART cards to bus riders.22Julie Moreno and Jessie Degollado, “Bexar County Unveils 6 Gun Safety Initiatives,” KSAT, September 2019, https://bit.ly/3uLFmq9; Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund, “Bexar County Launches First-of-its-Kind Gun Safety Bus Ads,” press release, November 25, 2019, https://bit.ly/3dZ3gI4; Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund, “Texas Moms Demand Action, Everytown Applaud Bexar County for Gun Violence Prevention Initiatives Supporting Responsible Gun Storage and Victims of Domestic Violence,” press release, September 10, 2019, https://bit.ly/3wSG3zE.
- Elected officials have shared Be SMART informational materials and PSAs on their social media pages.23Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund, “As Gun Purchases Skyrocket During Pandemic, Everytown for Gun Safety, Moms Demand Action Unveil ‘Be SMART’ PSA on Secure Gun Storage,” press release, April 23, 2020, https://bit.ly/3mNSSqv.
- In Woodland Park, New Jersey, the police department distributes Be SMART materials to individuals who apply for firearms permits.24“Woodland Park Police Department, Gun Range Support Be SMART Safety Initiative,” Tap Into Passaic Valley, March 22, 2021, https://bit.ly/3hvT9gJ.
- Be SMART materials have been distributed at National Night Out Against Crime events across the country.25Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund, “Moms Demand Action Partners with Local Law Enforcement in More Than 25 States for ‘National Night Out’ to Promote Be SMART Program to Prevent Unintentional Shootings by Children,” press release, August 1, 2017, https://bit.ly/2PPDNZH.
- In Jonesboro, Arkansas, Be SMART materials were distributed with food pantry care packages.26Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund, “Moms Demand Action Finds New Ways to Talk Secure Gun Storage During the Pandemic,” press release, May 27, 2020, https://bit.ly/3g5KEZq.
- In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, movie theaters play a 30-second Be SMART PSA before the start of every movie.27Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund, “Pennsylvania Moms Demand Action Announces Partnership with Cinemark in Pittsburgh to Run Gun Safety PSA,” press release, November 4, 2019, https://bit.ly/3mGqjeq.
- In Waterville, Maine, Be SMART volunteers partnered with Educare Central Maine learning center to host a book drive. Every book purchased came with information on Be SMART.28Maura Pillsbury, “Now Is the Time to Talk About Gun Safety,“ Bangor Daily News, January 14, 2021, https://bit.ly/32btjGi.
- In Gainesville, Florida, masks and Be SMART materials were distributed to a senior living facility.29Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund, “Moms Demand Action Finds New Ways to Talk Secure Gun Storage During the Pandemic,” press release, May 27, 2020, https://bit.ly/3g5KEZq.
- In St. Louis, Missouri, gun locks and Be SMART materials were distributed at a COVID-19 testing site.30Sam Masterson, “Free COVID-19 Testing Event in St. Louis Happening Monday,” KMOX, May 29, 2020, https://bit.ly/3tcUVH5.
- At the Medical University of South Carolina Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital, doctors counsel parents about secure gun storage and a Be SMART video is included on the hospital’s video system in patient rooms.31Leslie Cantu, “Pediatricians Ask Parents to ‘Be SMART’ About Storing Guns Safely,” Medical University of South Carolina Catalyst News, October 28, 2020, https://bit.ly/3d8u5u6.
The Gun Shop Project, launched by the New Hampshire Firearm Coalition and Means Matter, seeks to increase awareness of secure gun storage practices and the risks of gun suicide at a unique intervention point: when the individual enters a gun shop or firing range. The campaign provides educational materials, including posters, brochures, and cards, to all the gun shops and firing ranges in the state. The project has now been adopted in 11 states.32New Hampshire Firearm Coalition, “Suicide Prevention: A role for gun dealers and ranges,” accessed April 13, 2021, https://theconnectprogram.org/resources/nh-firearm-safety-coalition/; Means Matter, “Gun Shop Project,” accessed April 13, 2021, https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/means-matter/gun-shop-project/.
City officials may experience reluctance from gun owners to implement these steps for secure gun storage. Gun owners may argue against securely storing guns, claiming that such storage methods impede their ability to readily access their guns when needed. Therefore, city officials must be prepared with research regarding the impact of secure storage, public support for secure storage, as well as information to counter misconceptions about secure storage. Gun storage devices do not prevent owners from accessing guns in a timely manner. There are many affordable options for secure gun storage that provide owners with access to guns in a matter of seconds while still preventing access by children and people at increased risk of harming themselves or others. A 2019 survey found that nearly 80 percent of Americans—including those who own guns and those who don’t—support requiring gun owners to store their guns locked.33APM Research Lab, “APM Survey: Americans’ views on key gun policies. Part Three: mandating that guns be stored with locks in place,” October 2, 2019, https://www.apmresearchlab.org/gun-survey-storage.
Newsroom & Resources
Be SMART for Kids
The Be SMART campaign encourages parents and caretakers to “Be SMART” and take these five simple steps to help prevent shootings by children: Secure all guns in your homes and vehicles; model responsible behavior around guns; ask about unsecured guns in other homes; recognize the role of guns in suicide; tell your peers to Be SMART. Be SMART volunteers are in your city, and nearly 3,000 trained volunteers are delivering the Be SMART message across the country. The Be SMART website contains downloadable resources in English and Spanish on how to have conversations about gun storage with other adults, talking to children about guns, facts about child gun suicide, and secure gun storage practices.
Big Waves provides education on secure gun storage and distributes free gun locks. The organization also sells gun locks for a nominal fee.
Be SMART in Woodland Park, NJ
Woodland Park Police Department, Gun Range Support Be SMART Safety Initiative (Tap Into Passaic Valley, March 2021)
Op-Ed on Secure Storage: Bangor Daily News
Read the op-ed “Now Is the Time to Talk About Gun Safety” on the Bangor Daily News, January 2021.
Medical University of South Carolina on Be SMART
Pediatricians Ask Parents to ‘Be SMART’ About StoringGuns Safely (MUSC Catalyst News, October 2020)
Op-Ed on Suicide Prevention Month
September is National Suicide Prevention Month. Here’s How to Be SMART About Saving Lives (Pennsylvania Capital Star, September 2020)
Be SMART in McLean County, IL
Moms Group Finds COVID-Safe Ways to Spread Gun Violence Prevention Message (WGLT, June 2020)
Be SMART in St. Louis, MO
Article on how Moms Demand Action volunteers hand out free gun locks at free COVID-19 testing site in St. Louis Happening. (KMOX, May 2020)
Bexar County and gun storage
Bexar County unveils 6 gun safety initiatives, including gun collection program (KSAT, September 2019)
APM Survey: Americans’ Views on Key Gun Policies
APM Survey: Americans’ Views on Key Gun Policies, Part Three: Mandating that Guns Be Stored with Locks in Place (APM Research Lab, October 2019)
The Gun Shop Project
The Gun Shop Project provides educational materials, including posters, brochures, and cards, to gun shops and firing ranges.