Survey: many guns not safely stored

WASHINGTON (AP) — Firearms can be found in over one-third of American households — millions of them loaded and unlocked — according to a government-sponsored study released on Monday.
More than half the gun owners — 54 percent — said their firearms were kept in an unlocked place, and one-fifth said they had an unlocked, loaded gun in the home, according to the study, based on a 1994 telephone survey of 2,568 adults. It showed that 44 million Americans own 192 million guns.
The findings prompted this warning from Attorney General Janet Reno: “A locked gun can avoid a family tragedy.”
Because hundreds of children have died in accidental shooting deaths during the past few years, the justice department is pressing Congress to pass a law requiring child safety locks to be sold with every firearm.
The true number of unlocked, loaded guns in homes is probably higher than the survey found, said Georgetown University’s Jens Ludwig, co-author of the study.
“We know that there’s a tendency for survey respondents to try to make themselves look good to interviewers, and that means they would overstate whether your gun would be locked,” he said. “There’s likely to be more unlocked guns out there than we found, and presumably more loaded ones as well.”
Meanwhile, millions of people are walking or driving around with guns at the ready, the study found.
Some 7.5 percent of all American adults — more than 14 million — carried a gun with them at least once in 1994, Ludwig said. Excluding those who had a gun for work, it was 5.5 percent of American adults, or just more than 10 million, he said.
Of the 192 million firearms in private hands, 65 million were handguns, 127 million long guns.
Of those who said they owned at least one firearm, 46 percent said they got it to defend themselves against criminals, while no one admitted keeping a gun for illegal purposes.
“We did, in fact, find a shortage of people who reported mayhem” as a reason for gun ownership, said Ludwig, an assistant professor of public policy. “Unfortunately, as we know, they’re out there.”
The finding that 35 percent of homes have guns is actually lower than the numbers other studies have reported. In the 1950s, studies found guns were in about half of all households, while later surveys have shown a steady decline, Ludwig said.
While that might seem odd, “hunting and recreational use of guns seems to be decreasing in importance, even if protective ownership of firearms is increasing,” Ludwig said. That, combined with an increase in the number of households, accounts for the decline in the share with guns, he said.
The study also found that one-quarter of adults owned firearms, but three-quarters of those adults owned two or more. And 80 percent of the gun owners reported that their parents had a gun in the home when they were growing up.