Gun safety and children: Are free locks enough?


N366067 03: New York Gov. George Pataki, left, and Sgt. Craig Graizer of the New York State Police examine gun safety locks and other gun safety items after Pataki announced a sweeping plan to combat gun violence March 15, 2000 in New York City. The five-point plan would require child safety locks to be sold with all firearms at the time of sale. (Photo by Chris Hondros)

(NewsNation) — Surveillance footage of a toddler wielding a loaded gun highlights the danger of minors obtaining access to firearms.

Data released last year suggest that firearms are now the number one cause of death of American children. Some of these deaths are the result of self-harm or accidental shootings when children gain access to firearms.

One way governments and other organizations have responded to these challenges is by giving away free gun locks that can be used to secure firearms so they can’t be used by children.

Local police departments often take the lead in these initiatives. Police agencies in Detroit, for instance, provide free gun locks to people who request them.

Last year, Wayne County Sheriff Raphael Washington pointed to his own family in arguing that residents should take advantage of the program.

“I have a 2-year-old grandchild. When she unexpectedly comes over to my house, I have to think first right away, ‘where are my guns?” he said. “It’s got to be the most important thing we think about when we’re gun owners.”

The National Shooting Sports Foundation, which serves as the trade association of the firearms industry, works with police departments nationwide to distribute free child safety kits that include a cable-style gun lock.

This style of lock includes a key-operated padlock attached to an armored steel cable. The cable is used with unloaded firearms to prevent them from being fired.

Past research has shown that giving away gun locks to gun owners who also received some kind of education about firearm storage can improve gun storage behavior. One study of a community of gun-owning families found that offering counseling, a brochure on gun safety, and a free gun lock to a group of parents was associated with improvements to safe gun storage.

Rinad S. Beidas, an academic at Northwestern University who has studied safe gun storage programs, cautioned that it’s necessary to account for the different types of guns and to work to change owners’ behavior in the long run.

“People have multiple firearms and have them for different reasons,” she said. “So you may need different types of securing devices depending on what those reasons are.”

Gun safety can go beyond gun locks, Beidas argued, pointing to devices such as biometric safes as one option.

“It’s not just giving out the lock, it’s having a conversation and helping people identify what locking device might be most advantageous given their particular circumstances,” Beidas said.

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