Frederick P. Rivara, MD, MPH, FAAP
Ali Rowhani-Rahbar, MD, MPH, PhD
Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Program
We all are experiencing a truly unprecedented time right now, with multiple unique stresses for all of us and for the families of our patients. For some families, this has also meant an increase in potential dangers from firearms in the home. Stories from many sources indicate that there has been a dramatic increase in firearm and ammunition sales across the country, with sales doubling or even tripling in the last 4 to 6 weeks.
We can all speculate on the reasons for this. Before the pandemic, about one-third of homes in Washington state had a firearm. The most common reason people own firearms is for self-protection, accounting for about two-thirds of firearm owners. With the pandemic, concerns about need for self-protection may have increased. The surge in unemployment, the run on grocery stores, and the anxiety of many has likely increased the perceived need for a firearm to protect family and property.
This increase in firearm ownership or the number of firearms owned, particularly for self-protection, may pose real, substantial dangers to families. One in five households in our state with a firearm keep at least one of their firearms unlocked and loaded. The dangers this can pose is real. Not only are school-aged children constantly at home now, so are older adolescents and college students. The high rate of unemployment creates huge stresses on families and can increase the risk of domestic violence, child abuse, alcohol misuse, and suicidality. We know that unsecured firearms in the home increase the risk of accidental shootings and suicide especially among youth, a risk that can be reduced by ensuring firearms are stored safely. Counseling on safe storage is part of our job as pediatricians. Gun safes, gun lockboxes and trigger locks are effective devices to prevent access by those who might use firearms to harm themselves or others.
The Firearm Injury and Policy Research Program of the Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center, University of Washington, has recently gone a step further. When families have someone in the household going through an acute crisis, storage of firearms at home may not be sufficient to ensure safety of those in the home. We have created a resource to which families can turn to identify a police station, gun shop or shooting range which they can contact to store the firearm until the crisis passes. Please send families to: http://depts.washington.edu/hiprc/firearm-storage-wa/
Unfortunately, risks posed by firearms are part of our lane along with dealing with pandemic. Simple advice on storage of firearms can and should be part of the message of staying healthy and safe.