Pediatricians at The University of Arizona Report that Parents' Safe Gun Storage Behaviors Improve After Counseling

Families taught to improve gun safety.

Families who received a brief gun-safety counseling intervention from their pediatrician were more likely to improve their gun storage safety practices, according to a study in the November issue of Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

In 2001, 2,937 children and teen-agers died as a result of gun-related injuries, according to the article. Although gun ownership has been identified as a risk factor for homicide and suicide in the home, a significant percentage of gun-owning parents store their guns loaded or unlocked, substantially underestimating the risk of injury to their children.

Conrad Clemens, MD, associate professor of clinical pediatrics, Tom Ball, MD, associate professor of clinical pediatrics at The University of Arizona, and lead author Paul S. Carbone, MD, of the Children's Primary Care Medical Group in San Diego, identified gun-owning families through a questionnaire in a large, predominately Hispanic pediatric clinic in Tucson. Gun-owning families then were assigned to either an intervention group who received gun-safety counseling, a gun-safety brochure and a free gun lock or a control group. Families were resurveyed one month later to determine changes in gun-ownership and gun storage. The study was conducted in collaboration with the Pima County District Attorney's office, which provided the gunlocks.

Of the 2,649 parents surveyed on visiting the clinic, 206 (7.8 percent) reported that they kept guns in their homes; 151 completed both the baseline and follow-up questionnaire. "At follow-up, families who received the intervention were more likely to have improved overall gun-safety practices compared with the control group (61.6 percent vs. 26.9 percent)," the researchers report. "In those households still with guns at follow-up, 50.9 percent of the intervention group had some type of improvement in safe gun storage compared with 12.3 percent of the control group. More specifically, 25 percent in the intervention group improved the frequency of locked storage of guns compared with 4.8 percent of those in the control group. Twenty-six percent of the intervention group improved the use of locked storage, compared with 3.1 percent in the control group."

"This study provides reason to be optimistic about the effectiveness of a brief gun-safety counseling session, reinforced with written material and a gun lock giveaway," the authors write. "Overall, those gun-owning families who received the intervention were more than twice as likely to show some type of improvement in their gun-safety practices. More specifically, although our intervention did not appear to significantly influence the removal of guns from the home, it did significantly improve safe gun storage practices," they add.

"This study provides support to the American Academy of Pediatrics' recommendations to discuss gun safety with families and encourages further research in this area," the authors conclude.