LOS ANGELES - Forty-five percent of firearm owners in Los Angeles County with children under 18 years of age store firearms unsafely (loaded and/or unlocked), according to a recent survey sponsored by the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services (DHS). Eleven percent reported storing them very unsafely (loaded and unlocked).
Based on these percentages, an estimated 114,000 children live in homes with unsafely stored firearms, of which 23,000 are in homes with an unlocked and loaded firearm. "Due to underreporting of gun ownership and unsafe storage practices, these figures are only minimum estimates," said Jonathan E. Fielding, M.D., M.P.H., Director of Public Health and Health Officer. "Based on national surveys, the actual percentage of unsafe storage could be much higher."
Firearms are considered safely stored only when unloaded and locked in a cabinet, lockbox, or other firearm container. In addition, ammunition should be locked and stored separately from the firearms.
"The availability and accessibility of firearms in and around the home increases the chances of a child being killed or injured," said Billie Weiss, M.P.H., director of the county's Injury and Violence Prevention Program. "Nearly 19% of all deaths to children and youth under the age of 20 in the county are due to firearms."
Other survey findings
Overall, the self-reported prevalence of owning a firearm was 15% countywide in the L.A. County Health Survey. Experts believe that reporting understates the level of firearm ownership which, based on national surveys, is estimated at 30-40% of households. Among households with children under the age of 18, the prevalence of having a firearm in or around the home was 13%, and 16% among households without children. Among respondents without children, 65% reported unsafe firearm storage practices including 21% who reported keeping loaded and unlocked firearms in their homes.
African-Americans reported the highest prevalence of overall unsafe firearm storage (67%) compared to Whites (62%), Latinos (47%), and Asians/Pacific Islanders (45%). The full report, "Firearm Storage and Risk to Children" can be accessed online at: http://lapublichealth.org/ha/
The Los Angeles County Health Survey is a population-based telephone survey of approximately 8,000 households in the County, examining health and health-related issues for adults and children. Field Research Corporation conducted the survey for DHS with support from the California Department of Health Services and the Los Angeles County Department of Public Social Services. The survey was repeated in September 1999 through April 2000 and previously in 1997.
Public Health is committed to protecting and improving the health of the nearly 10 million residents of Los Angeles County. Through a variety of programs, community partnerships and services, Public Health oversees environmental health, disease control and community and family health. Public Health comprises more than 3,800 employees and has an annual budget exceeding $465 million.