Child access prevention laws and safe storage of firearms prevent injuries. We must advocate for stronger safety laws to prevent the death of children in our communities.
In early January, U.S. citizens were shocked and deeply saddened by the shooting of a Virginia teacher by her first-grade student. While the exact circumstances that led to this child accessing a firearm weren’t shared with the public, it’s a tragic truth that events like this can happen when children gain access to unsafely stored firearms.
Safe storage practices including keeping firearms stored unloaded, locked, separate from ammunition, and/or with an extrinsic safety device are protective against unintentional injuries, suicide, and homicide. Child access prevention (CAP) laws hold gun owners responsible for the safe storage of firearms and have been shown to reduce unintentional injuries in children by up to 23% in one study, youth suicide, and overall pediatric hospitalizations for nonfatal gun injuries.
Currently only 24 states have child access prevention laws. Several key elements (adapted from the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence ) provide a framework for the strongest laws that have been shown to best prevent injuries:
1. Criminal liability is imposed on gun owners who negligently store firearms in such a way that unsupervised minors could gain access to the firearms.
2. Liability is imposed on people who negligently store firearms even if the firearms are stored unloaded.
3. Civil liability for damages resulting from the use of a firearm may be imposed on people who negligently stored a firearm to which a minor gained access.
4. A minor is defined as a person under 21 for handguns and under 18 for long guns.
5. All firearms are required to be stored unloaded with a locking device in place whenever they are not in the immediate control of the adult gun owner.
As clinicians and advocates, emboldened by stories like this and like those of too many firearm-injured patients we’ve cared for, I encourage you to closely examine your state’s CAP statute and ask yourself if it satisfies these elements. If it doesn’t or if your state doesn’t have a CAP law, take a moment to write to your state legislators and encourage them to take these steps to protect our children, patients, and communities.
This piece expresses the views solely of the author. It does not necessarily represent the views of any organization, including Johns Hopkins Medicine.