"Pondering a firearm" by Dan Foy is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Alcohol Misuse Raises Risk of Unsafe Firearm Storage

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
"Pondering a firearm" by Dan Foy is licensed under CC BY 2.0Erin Morgan
PhD Student | Department of Epidemiology
University of Washington

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: Going into this study we were interested in looking at youth exposure to unsafely stored firearms. Unsafely stored firearms in the household, especially those that are stored unlocked, are a known risk factor for adolescent suicide. We were also interested in looking into a population of children and teens who are at particularly heightened risk for suicide and unintentional injury—those living with an adult who misuses alcohol.

Overall, we found that about 30% of those under the age of 18 live in a firearm owning home and among those youth, around 55% lived with a firearm stored in a way other than locked and unloaded. Among those in firearm owning household, we also found that when compared to youth living with a survey respondent that did not report alcohol misuse, those living with an adult that did misuse alcohol were 20% more likely to reside in a home where the firearm was stored unsafely; children were 27% more likely to live in a home reporting unlocked storage, specifically.

MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report? 

Response: This research indicates the need for improved firearm storage in homes with children. In Washington State, 16% of youth under the age of 18 live in a home where a firearm is stored in a way other than locked and unloaded. While some parents are practicing safe storage, there are still a lot of children living with an unsafely stored firearm. This may stem from misperceptions that children are more at risk for unintentional firearm injury than self-inflicted, but in 2016 there were about six times as many firearm suicides as unintentional firearm deaths in this age group.

There are a number of different ways to encourage improving storage habits. For some people, conversations in a doctor’s office will be helpful, but for others, media that helps normalize conversations about storage and encourages parents to lock up guns may be a better approach. Community programs that give away safe storage devices are also helpful. I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all solution—increasing the use of safe storage techniques will be a team effort. 

MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?

Response: We can continue to improve interventions for safe storage to work on making our approaches as effective as possible. One step towards these interventions is to reach out to parents who aren’t using safe storage methods and try to understand why. In some cases, parents may not be aware of suicide risks and would benefit from education. For others, it may be more beneficial to offer free storage devices or offer programs to offset the cost of a safe or lockbox. Different reasons for not practicing safe storage require different interventions and if implemented programs don’t meet parents’ needs, they aren’t going to adhere to recommendations. 

MedicalResearch.com: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: The path to improved storage can’t exist in a vacuum. Previous research has found that safe storage interventions are less likely to improve storage behavior among parents who misuse alcohol. Given that children living with an adult who misuses alcohol are already at increased risk for injury, in some situations it may be helpful to pair safe storage counseling with interventions aimed at reducing alcohol use. The goal is to keep kids safe—reducing injury risk through multiple approaches will help us achieve that goal.

This study was funded in part by Grandmothers Against Gun Violence. The firearms-related state-added questions were funded by Clark County Public Health, Kitsap Public Health District, Public Health Seattle & King County, Snohomish Health District, Spokane Regional Health District, Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department, and Washington State Department of Health. The Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System data used were made available by Washington State Department of Health, Center for Health Statistics, and Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System and were supported in part by Cooperative Agreements U58/S0000047-3 (2013) and NU58/DP006066-02+02 (2016) from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The funders had no role in the design and conduct of the study; collection, management, analysis, and interpretation of the data; preparation, review, or approval of the manuscript; and decision to submit the manuscript for publication.


Morgan ER, Gomez A, Rivara FP, Rowhani-Rahbar A. Firearm Storage and Adult Alcohol Misuse Among Washington State Households With Children. JAMA Pediatr. Published online November 19, 2018. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2018.3624 

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Last Updated on November 20, 2018 by Marie Benz MD FAAD