Only Half of Parents with Firearms at Home Keep Them Unloaded

August 05, 2021

Children’s Lives Depend on Firearm Safety

A recent study from Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago found that, in the midst of continuing gun violence in Chicago, 22 percent of city parents reported having a firearm at home. Of great concern, nearly half of Chicago parents with firearms at home store them loaded, which is not a safe way to protect children from firearm-related injury and death.

The latest Voices of Child Health in Chicago report from Lurie Children’s asked 1,505 parents from all of the city’s 77 neighborhoods about steps they take toward firearm safety and how gun violence has altered their lives.

Among parents who owned firearms, the top reasons for keeping guns in their homes were for protection (77 percent), hunting or target shooting (32 percent), as part of a collection (14 percent) and for a parent’s job (11 percent) (parents could select more than one reason). A vast majority of parents (89 percent) added that their firearms are stored and locked. However, 46 percent said they stored their guns loaded, contrary to safety precautions. The safest storage for firearms is to keep them locked and unloaded.

Research has shown that having guns in homes where children and teens can access them significantly increases the risk of firearm death by homicide or suicide. Lurie Children’s survey found the highest rates of gun ownership by parents in Chicago’s Central Region (59 percent), including the Loop, Near North Side and Near South Side, compared with other areas of the city (18-30 percent). However, only 16 percent of parents who owned firearms in the Central region indicated that they stored guns safely locked and unloaded, compared to parents in other areas of the city (48-74 percent).

“We know that the very best way to keep children safe from guns is to not keep guns in the home. It’s also important for parents to ask whether guns are present in the homes of friends and family members where their children spend time,” says Matthew M. Davis, MD, MAPP, Chair of the Department of Medicine at Lurie Children’s, Executive Vice-President and Chief Community Health Transformation Officer at the Patrick M. Magoon Institute for Healthy Communities at Lurie Children’s and Chair of Pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

Tragically, firearm accidents also occur when children are playing at a friend’s home and they find guns. The survey found that 80 percent of parents had not asked a friend’s parents if they had guns in their home in the last year. However, the pandemic has decreased play time with others, which might explain this finding.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advocates that a home without firearms is the safest way to prevent child firearm injuries and deaths. Lurie Children’s supports and builds upon AAP’s recommendations to help keep children safe from firearm violence:

  • Don’t keep guns in the home.
  • If there are firearms in the home, store them unloaded and locked inside a lock box or gun safe. Store and lock away ammunition separately. Learn about safe storage of firearms and gunlocks.
  • Keep your child safe when they visit another home by asking the other child’s parent or guardian, “Is there an unlocked gun in your house?”
  • Teach your children that if they ever encounter a gun, they should leave the room immediately without touching the gun, and tell a trusted adult.
  • Join Lurie Children’s and Strengthening Chicago’s Youth in supporting firearm legislation that has been proven to decrease gun violence in states with similar laws.
  • Become an active member of your community and support agencies that address violence prevention.
  • Social connectedness is a factor that can protect youth from gun violence. You can foster social connectedness by helping your children build close social bonds with family, trusted adults, and peers and by supporting local youth development programs.
  • For more guidance, visit Guns in the

“Promoting positive relationships and supporting local youth development programming is another way that parents can work to protect children from gun violence,” says Karen Sheehan, MD, MPH, Associate Chair for Advocacy in Pediatrics at Lurie Children’s and Medical Director of the Patrick M. Magoon Institute for Healthy Communities, and Professor of Pediatrics, Medical Education, and Preventive Medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

Lurie Children’s survey also found that 23 percent of parents said that their families had been personally affected by gun violence. Even higher proportions of parents indicated that they changed their activities and lifestyles for protection. Parents across all areas of Chicago said they avoided being out at times that were less safe (56 percent), talked with their children about staying safe from gun violence (53 percent), secured their homes (35 percent) and talked with their children about safety around police officers (34 percent).

The July 2021 Voices of Child Health in Chicago study builds on previous studies where Chicago parents named gun violence as their top social concern for their children and the social problem that was getting worse the fastest for the city’s youth.

Survey findings are based on data from the Voices of Child Health in Chicago Parent Panel Survey. The survey is conducted exclusively by NORC at the University of Chicago for Lurie Children’s and is administered to Chicago parents three times each year via internet and telephone surveys. The data in this report are from Wave 2 of the survey, collected between November 2020 through February 2021. Responses came from all community areas in Chicago and were weighted to be representative of households with children across the city.

Population-focused child health research at Lurie Children’s is conducted through the Mary Ann & J. Milburn Smith Child Health Outcomes, Research, and Evaluation Center at the Stanley Manne Children’s Research Institute. The Manne Research Institute is focused on improving child health, transforming pediatric medicine and ensuring healthier futures through the relentless pursuit of new knowledge. Lurie Children’s is ranked as one of the nation’s top children’s hospitals in U.S. News & World Report and is the pediatric training affiliate for Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Last year, the hospital served more than 221,000 children from 47 states and 30 countries.