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Public Health - Seattle & King County

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Why is this group involved in gun issues?

We know from research that the easy availability of firearms in a community is a risk factor for firearm-related death and injury.

Guns are stolen and used in other crimes, teens commit suicide with household guns, children are injured or killed accidentally from guns that are loaded or unlocked in the home, and students who do carry guns to school may get them from their home.

As state and local health departments and community hospitals, we care about issues that affect public health. For example, firearm-related death is the fourth leading cause of death from injury in Washington state. Reducing the number of firearm injuries will contribute to the overall health of Washington state. Public health works to keep communities safe and healthy.

We encourage people to keep medicines and other dangerous substances out of the reach of their children. We still work to keep home environments safe by identifying dangers such as lead paint, encouraging people to check their smoke detectors and identifying other safety risks to children. This campaign is very similar in keeping with the mission of public health.

I don't have any kids, so why do I need to worry about this?

You may not have as much risk as someone with young children in the home. But do kids ever visit your house? If so, there is a risk.

Even if children never visit your home, if you leave your gun out in the open you are vulnerable to having it stolen.

Isn't the number of kids who are hurt from guns due to accidents very small?

The number of children (under 19 years old) who are accidentally shot each year in Washington is small, (84 children from 2007–2011), but it is a horrible tragedy when it does happen and one that doesn’t need to happen at all.

There is no single action that we can take that will stop all firearm injuries, but safely storing household firearms would result in fewer gun deaths and injuries.

Our committee works to make a difference where we can and this is one of those places where each person who owns a gun can make a difference by locking and storing their firearm safely.

I've taught my kids about guns from the time they could barely walk. They know that all they have to do is ask me and I'll let them touch it. I've taken them to the range and they know about firearm safety. If parents teach their kids responsible firearm handling you don't need all this other stuff, right?

Teaching children about the dangers of firearms and how to behave around them is very important. However, it is important to talk with children in addition to performing safe firearm storage practices.

Children and teens are still developing mentally and may not truly understand that playing with a gun could have lasting, tragic consequences. Furthermore, emotionally distressed teens often act suddenly without fully thinking things through. When firearms are involved an impulsive cry for help is usually fatal.

A study with young children found that even children who went through an intensive week-long training about the dangers of guns and were repeatedly told not to touch them could not resist. In this filmed study, researchers saw that after the program, the kids played with an (unloaded) semiautomatic pistol regardless of if they were part of the training intervention group or not.

Locking and storing guns safely keeps them out of the hands of children who may visit your home. Safe storage also prevents your guns from being stolen.

I understand about accidental shootings with kids, but what's this business about teens and suicide? If someone wants to kill himself or herself, locking up a gun isn't going to stop them. Won't they just find another way?

When adults try to commit suicide they are often more determined, and simply removing the means may not prevent them from killing themselves. But teens are different. Sure, unfortunately some will find a way to kill themselves anyway, but many teen suicides are impulsive and not well thought out.

It is a stressful time of life and being bullied at school, or breaking up with a girlfriend may push them over the edge for a brief moment. But the mood doesn't always last. If we can delay teens from hurting themselves, we buy them precious time- time for their mood to shift, or someone to come home, or a friend to call or come over.

A study of teen suicides showed that more than half were committed with guns from their own home.

I keep most of my guns locked up, but I keep one gun either on my person or handy for personal protection purposes. What good does it do me if I lock it up?

This is one reason why we recommend the push-button lock boxes. You can access your gun in about 3 seconds.

These lock boxes are expensive – why should I spend that kind of money when I already keep my firearm out of sight and away from kids?

There are ways to lock up your gun other than by using lock boxes. Cable locks cost less than $10. Fast acting lock boxes are helpful if you need to be able to get your gun in a hurry or if you want to protect your firearm from residential theft.

Most new handguns cost $300 or more. The fast acting boxes are less expensive, but are a potentially life-saving investment, and are a small percentage of the cost of a firearm.

If I put my gun in one of those metal boxes, it won't keep a thief from using a crowbar or some other tool to rip it out of my floor and carry it off.

Steel front doors, high fences, deadbolts, ferocious dogs- none of these are a guarantee against theft. But we know that most thieves are interested in what they can grab easily in a hurry. They want to get out before being seen or caught.

Very few thieves are going to spend even 10 minutes trying to break into a steel box that is bolted to the floor or wall.

If you are telling people who have guns for personal protection to buy and use a lockbox, aren't you going to encourage them to place a loaded gun in the box? If it accidentally fires while in the box, won't the bullet come through the box and hurt or kill someone? Isn't it better to tell people to lock up their unloaded guns and then lock up their ammunition separately?

It is ideal and preferable to store firearms locked and unloaded with ammunition stored separately. The ability of a bullet to pass through the box and injure someone would depend on the material that the box was made of and the power of the ammunition in the gun.

Most new handguns are designed so that they are unlikely to fire if they are dropped or bumped. The use of a lock box may result in some loaded firearms being placed in the box. However, a locked firearm is safer than an unlocked firearm available to children and others.

I'm confused by all the different products in the store. Which one should I buy?

There are several different ways to lock up or store your gun. Most products fall into one of three categories: boxes or small safes, trigger locks, and cable-type locks.

Each type of locking device has advantages and disadvantages and should be chosen according to your personal needs and the model of your firearm. View the different kinds of storage devices that are available (PDF).

No matter what security device you choose, ensure that it has been certified for meeting safety standards. Visit the California Department of Justice's online roster of Approved Firearms Safety Devices for a list of certified firearm safety devices.