Preventing Firearm Injury and Death with Safe and Secure Storage Policies
January 26, 2024 | Caitlin Langhorne, Christina Severin
Securely storing firearms is a critical component in preventing firearm injury and death. There were more than 48,000 firearm-related deaths in 2022, more than half of which were from suicide. Firearm injuries are also the leading cause of death for children and young adults in the United States. Jurisdictions can reduce the risk of injury and death by firearm by creating policies that promote “means reduction” (i.e., reducing access to deadly devices by a person who is suicidal) and by supporting secure firearm storage practices to prevent access by children or other forms of violence.
States Moving Toward Safe and Secure Storage
There are several policy options that support safe storage practices, including specific provisions that penalize owners when minors have access to firearms. As of 2021, Child Access Prevention Laws existed in 31 jurisdictions. These laws generally require secure storage in homes where children are present to help prevent unauthorized access and injury, with some exceptions. During the 2023 legislative session, several states adopted or modified their child access prevention laws, including Maryland (SB 858), which changed its firearm access law to apply to unsupervised minors (younger than 18) rather than just those younger than 16.
Michigan (SB 79) also enacted safe storage requirements to prevent access by minors, including penalties for violations that include fines and imprisonment, which increase depending on the severity of actions that result from the minor’s possession of the firearm. Similarly, in Vermont (H 230), a person who stores or keeps firearms where a child (or other prohibited person) is likely to gain access may be fined or imprisoned if the firearms are accessed and used in certain ways, with escalating penalties and exceptions.
A number of states also more broadly considered bills related to safely and securely storing firearms during the 2023 legislative session. For example, Nevada (SB 294) enacted a law requiring licensed firearm dealers to include locking devices with a firearms sale or transfer, and to post a notice educating purchasers on the penalties for unlawful firearm storage. As part of a larger piece of legislation, North Carolina (SB 41) adopted a firearm access law that includes a safe storage awareness initiative and will facilitate the distribution of locking devices, create a website and toolkit on the importance of safe storage, and direct the development of an outreach plan of these resources to the public.
Several jurisdictions also addressed safe storage education requirements, particularly in school settings. For example, Washington (HB 1230) now requires that school districts provide information on injury and violence prevention among children (e.g., substance use, overdose, and secure storage of firearms and prescription drugs) on their websites and through other district communications. Texas (HB 3) also requires the development of safe storage resources and distribution by schools, and Nevada SB 294 (referenced above) directs school district emergency operations plans to include information about providing firearm storage requirements and penalties to parents and guardians.
Finally, establishing policies that support the temporary transfer of firearms in a time of crisis can reduce the immediate risk of firearm injury and death by protecting a person at risk of harm to self or others. In addition, clarifying the liability protections associated with the return of a firearm may reduce barriers to participation by those individuals and entities eligible to serve as a temporary storage location.
In 2023, a number of states pursued policies that support temporary firearm storage, including California (SB 368), which enacted a law directing licensed firearm dealers to temporarily store a firearm to prevent danger or injury, or for other lawful reasons. Montana (SB 423) enacted legislation limiting liability for individuals or private entities returning firearms to an individual per a firearm hold agreement. A number of other jurisdictions considered similar legislation that supports temporary firearm storage with liability protections, including Ohio (SB 188), Texas (HB 3545), Wisconsin (AB 173), and Oregon (HB 3615). And, while not a legislative action, online storage maps have been created for several states, including Colorado, New Jersey, and Washington, that help firearm owners locate places to temporarily store their firearms if they are in crisis and at risk for suicide or, in some cases, have additional needs for storage outside the home (e.g., while children are visiting).
Considerations Moving Forward
While there are a number of policy solutions to address firearm injury and death, when using a public health approach, jurisdictions should consider the following:
- Build and maintain partnerships between public health and the communities most impacted, as well as partners such as law enforcement, firearm retailers, and firearm ranges. Leverage these partnerships to determine policy solutions with the most reach and potential for success.
- Establish a violence prevention program infrastructure that supports diverse communities and focuses firearm injury policy solutions on the local and/or community level.
- Advance optimal health for all by ensuring policies identify those most at risk, enhance access to services for those at risk of suicide, and improve the safety of community environments using proven crime prevention strategies (e.g., updating abandoned buildings for new uses and creating community green spaces in previously vacant lots).
- Promote safe/secure storage of firearms and establish policies that increase access to or options for safe and secure storage. If a jurisdiction already has these policies in place, regularly evaluate their effectiveness to determine opportunities for further improving outcomes.