U.S. Government Report: Gun Locks Work, Doctor Lectures Do Not

Handguns with Project ChildSafe cable locks

A new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report has confirmed what we know to be true. The distribution of free gun locks helps to increase the use of safe storage practices. Having doctors talk to parents about safe storage and firearms in the home does not change the parents’ behavior. In the words of the GAO authors: “Our review of the studies relating to safe storage approaches (device distribution and physician consultation) found that providing a free locking device to study participants influenced behavior to store firearms more safely and physician consultation generally did not.” By Larry Keane We know this of course, having seen through the undeniable success of NSSF’s Project ChildSafe® program as it has distributed 37 million free safety kits that include a firearm locking device to communities in all 50 states. And we are determined to see the downward trend in firearms-related accidents continue to decline.

12 Studies Analyzed

Handguns with Project ChildSafe cable locks
Handguns with Project ChildSafe cable locks

The government researchers analyzed the results of 12 different studies. Of these, about half (5) tested the impact of distributing locking devices—including cable locks, trigger locks or gun safes/cabinets. According to the GAO, the results are clear:

“All five studies found that gun owners given a locking device began using the device to store their firearms more safely compared to a control group or based on surveys given before and after receiving the device.”

For example, one study involved a national randomized trial of pediatric practices. Some of the 137 practices distributed educational materials and cable locks to some parents and not to others. The GAO describes the conclusion as, “After 6 months, researchers contacted participants who had received the educational materials and cable locks and found that they reported an increase (from 59 percent to 68 percent) in use of the cable locks since they received them.

Over the same period, the percentage of respondents in the control group, who did not receive these devices, reported that their use of cable locks decreased from 64 percent to 52 percent.” Similar results were reported in studies that did not rely on self-reporting to evaluate effectiveness. Instead, they followed up with unannounced visits to observe the change in storage behaviors.

As the GAO conducted this analysis at the request of members of Congress that tend to support gun control measures, it’s no surprise that the report points out a lack of federal government funding for research on firearms. However, we would note that in Appendix III: Federal Efforts to Promote Firearm Safety, many programs are being funded by several agencies that have not been proven to be effective, according to this same report. The one that stands out—NSSF’s grant from the Justice Department to expand our ongoing Project ChildSafe. Based on GAO’s own research, more funding should be directed to funding the distribution of free locking devices and educational material, rather than being poured into ineffective gun control measures masquerading as safety programs.

‘Smart Guns’ Not Ready

As a side note, an entire appendix is dedicated to the quest for a functioning so-called “smart gun.” After describing the government research that has been committed to developing authorized-user technology for firearms, the GAO notes that a 2015 National Institute of Justice (NIJ) “Gun Safety Technology Challenge” failed. The authors write:

“The challenge, which consisted of a three-stage evaluation of the reliability and durability of smart gun technology, received 14 submissions from developers, according to NIJ officials. However, these officials told us that 12 of the 14 submissions were ineligible because they were concepts rather than functional products. Of the two remaining submissions, one applicant was determined to be ineligible, leaving only one other applicant. Due to the low response rate, NIJ terminated the challenge in 2016, prior to conducting any testing. NIJ officials stated that they do not have plans to provide additional funding for the development of smart gun technologies.”

And as far as private sector efforts to develop authorized-user technology, “DOJ officials told us that the reliability of existing personalized firearms is still unknown.” As we have discussed here before, reliability is a key factor of whether such technology is ready to be incorporated into a firearm for both law enforcement and civilian use. NSSF doesn’t oppose the development of such technology, although we remain opposed to mandates that this conceptual technology be incorporated into firearms due to product liability concerns and unintended safety consequences.

Based on the GAO study, the real answer doesn’t require expensive, conceptual technology to help encourage safe storage practices. The best policy prescription lies in supporting and funding for programs such as Project ChildSafe that work with communities to help distribute the locking devices and educational materials that actually make a difference.

How do you ensure you firearms are stored safely? What tips can you offer other readers? Share your answers in the comment section.

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Comments (9)

  1. All my self defense (Home and auto) weapons are in key pad and/or biometric lock boxes. Small price to pay for this old man with too many grandbabies (ages 2-21) that frequent my home. All others are in the safe. For the price of one nice weapon, you can have a safe big enough to store 20–40.

  2. I ended up with three safes in my home (plus one in the truck) for this very reason. They had to be locked, but also available. I have a drop door safe next to the bed for defense. And, I teach my daughter safety first. Almost every firearm I have bought new in the last few years comes with a locking device… I don’t think i have used any of them, i prefer a safe.

  3. Sure I’ll use a locking devise. I have a 50 year old air rifle that has not been operable for at least 20 years. I’ll put a lock on it because it can not hurt any one and neither can that lock. They are made for each other.

  4. If the firearm is kept for the sole purpose of target shooting, a lock is fine. If the gun is kept for self defense, a lock is idiotic. Biometric, single gun safes the size of a DVD player have come down in price substantially in the last couple years, and offer both safety from curious children and instant access.

  5. Training training training. It is effective along with practice and re-enforcement. Gun handling and storage are the FIRST steps before allowing any child to touch a firearm. I was shown and taught about firearm safety then introduced to air guns to learn on before actual use of firearms.

  6. Want to see what I can do with a cable lock with a revolver? Let’s see…
    I’ll pull the cable through one of the holes in the cylinder, and lock it. Assume that it is a 6 shooter. I can still move the cylinder. I can still put a bullet in an empty cylinder, and cycle it so it can shoot.

    I would never recommend a cable lock for a revolver. This is when a trigger locks does shine.

  7. “found that they reported”. So much for validity of the survey.

    From the information we have above, we do not know if there was an attempt to correlate the responses with changes in child injury or death. And if there was (either), how can that change be traced directly and solely to the use of physical safety devices?

    Surveys are just about impossible to analyze because surveyed behavior is not observed behavior. Surveys tell you only what the respondent said at that moment. While it may be true (and who knows?) that “most people” answer truthfully, how many is “most”, and is that statistically valid?

    Surveys are sometimes called “polling”, which suffers the same unreliability of response (see presidential election of 2016).

    1. I suspect objectivity in polling practices will lead to more accurate poll results. At this time it seems the “polling” is nothing more than a propaganda tool. Propaganda not in favor of any form of Liberty.

    2. Safe storage? For all weapons you own? Gun locks installed on every gun in the house? No loaded weapons in the house? With all of this, why bother owning a damned gun ( I am not the one damning guns). All of the above renders them useless for one of the prime reasons for owning any gun; protection of me and mine, especially at home.

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