In 2015, one-third of all households with children contained firearms, 21% of which contained at least 1 firearm that was both loaded and unlocked. As a result, approximately 4.6 million children lived in a home with loaded and unlocked firearms.1 The nationally representative survey study reported herein updates these estimates as of April 2021, 12 months into an unprecedented and sustained surge in firearm purchases.2,3
Data are from a nationally representative survey of US adults conducted April 15 through 26, 2021, with respondents drawn from an online sampling frame of 55 000 US adults recruited using address-based sampling. A description of the survey methods is available elsewhere.3 The institutional review boards at Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts, and Harvard’s School of Public Health, Boston, determined the survey did not require review because the deidentified data did not qualify as human participants research. We followed the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) reporting guideline for survey studies.
Panel members were screened with questions about household firearm ownership, including whether they personally owned firearms. Panel members were asked (1) Do you personally own a working gun (yes/no)? and (2) Does anyone else in your household own a working gun (yes/no/don’t know)? Firearm owners were asked (1) Do you store any of the guns you keep in or around your home loaded (yes/no)? (2) Do you store any of the guns you keep in or around your home unlocked (yes/no)? and, if they answered yes to both questions, (3) Do you store any of the guns you keep in or around your home both loaded and unlocked (yes/no)? Race and ethnicity were self-reported, using profile categories supplied by the survey firm (Ipsos).
Poststratification weights were applied to adjust for nonresponse and undercoverage or overcoverage from the study-specific sample design relative to expected distributions from the US Census Current Population Survey and the American Community Survey. Analyses used the SVY suite of commands in Stata, version16 (StataCorp LLC) to produce prevalence estimates with 95% CIs.
Of the 29 985 adult panel members invited to participate, 19 049 (63.5%) did so. Among all respondents, 9144 (48.0%) were men, 9905 (52.0%) were women, 62.0% were White non-Hispanic, and 33.3% lived in households with children younger than 18 years. Of the adults with children, 40.4% (95% CI, 38.6%-42.2%) who responded to the survey lived in a household with firearms. Of these, 29.3% (95%, CI, 27.7%-30.9%) owned firearms, and 11.1% (95% CI, 9.9%-12.4%) lived in a home with firearms but did not personally own a firearm (Table). The mean number of children per firearm-owning household with children (1.9; 95% CI, 1.9-2.0) was comparable to that in households with children and no firearms (1.8).
Most of the firearm owners with children (n = 1363) were male, were White, were married, lived in either a rural or suburban area, and had attended some college (Table). Of these, 36.1% (95% CI, 32.0%-40.4%) had unlocked firearms, and 37.1% (95% CI, 33.1%-41.4%) had loaded firearms. Of these, 15.0% (95% CI, 12.3%-18.2%) stored at least 1 firearm loaded and unlocked (least safe), and 44.1% (95% CI, 39.8%-48.5%) stored all firearms unloaded and locked.
These results indicate that in April 2021, approximately 30 million children lived in households with firearms, 7 million more than in 2015.1,2 Firearm owners with children were more likely to store all household firearms locked and unloaded in 2021 (44.1%) compared with 2015 (29%)1 and were slightly less likely to have firearms that were both loaded and unlocked (15.0% vs 21%1).
Nevertheless, the trend toward safer storage we observed in 2021 was offset by the increase in the proportion of adults with children who lived in households with firearms. As a result, our estimate of the number of children who lived in a household with loaded and unlocked firearms in 2021 (4.6 million) was not meaningfully different from the estimate reported in the 2015 National Firearms Survey.
Our study has limitations. This study’s results should be interpreted considering potential inaccuracies due to social desirability, with such bias likely underestimating the prevalence of unsafe storage.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all firearms in households with children should be unloaded and in locked storage, with ammunition stored separately. Our findings underscore the ongoing need for more effective efforts to reduce children’s exposure to unsafely stored firearms, especially considering recent increases in new firearm owners, including those with children.2-5
Accepted for Publication: December 28, 2021.
Published: February 22, 2022. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.48823
Open Access: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the CC-BY License. © 2022 Miller M et al. JAMA Network Open.
Corresponding Author: Matthew Miller, MD, MPH, ScD, Bouvé College of Health Sciences, Department of Health Sciences, Northeastern University, 360 Huntington Ave, Room 316 Robinson Hall, Boston, MA 02115 (email@example.com).
Author Contributions: Both authors had full access to all the data in the study and take responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis.
Concept and design: Both authors.
Acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data: Both authors.
Drafting of the manuscript: Both authors.
Critical revision of the manuscript for important intellectual content: Azrael.
Statistical analysis: Both authors.
Obtained funding: Both authors.
Conflict of Interest Disclosures: None reported.
Funding/Support: This study was supported in part by the Joyce Foundation.
Role of the Funder/Sponsor: The Joyce Foundation had no role in the design and conduct of the study; collection, management, analysis, and interpretation of the data; preparation, review, or approval of the manuscript; and decision to submit the manuscript for publication.
D. Firearm purchasing during the COVID-19 pandemic: results from the 2021 National Firearms Survey. Ann Intern Med
. Published online December 21, 2021. doi:10.7326/M21-3423