Two-thirds of California firearm owners with children do not store guns in recommended way

Study shows widespread support for firearm safety conversations with health care providers, parents and caregivers


Firearm injuries are among the leading causes of death for children and adolescents in the United States.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends all guns be locked up and unloaded.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends all guns be locked up and unloaded.

At home, the risk of death or injury can be reduced for children by properly storing firearms so they are inaccessible. Methods include keeping firearms unloaded and locked up with a gun safe, lockbox or cable lock.

A new study of California adults published in JAMA Network Open from the Violence Prevention Research Program (VPRP) at UC Davis Health reveals that nearly two-thirds of people who have guns and live with children do not store all firearms locked up and unloaded.

“Research shows that living in a home with firearms increases the risk that someone will experience firearm-related harm, including kids. Firearm storage that reduces unauthorized access to firearms may prevent injuries,” said Rocco Pallin, a data analyst at VPRP and lead author for the study.

According to the Gun Violence Archive, there were an estimated 5,142 firearm injuries or deaths of children below the age of 18 in 2020. Almost 1,000 of those injured or killed were 11 years of age or younger.

For the study, the team used data from the 2018 California Safety and Wellbeing Survey (CSaWS), a state-representative survey of adults. Other study results:

  • Only one-third of firearm-owning adults in California who live with children store all guns locked up and unloaded, the manner recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
  • Nearly two-thirds of those not living with children stored all firearms locked up and unloaded.
  • Over 70% of the respondents in households with guns and children thought a firearm made their home safer.

The findings highlight the need for continued efforts to promote firearm storage that prevents access by those at risk of injury, especially children. An estimated one in five California households with children, approximately 931,000, contain at least one firearm.

Parents, caregivers open to conversations about safe firearm storage

Although many participants did not store firearms locked up and unloaded, the study found support among both firearm owners and non-owners for adopting or discussing pediatric injury prevention strategies.

“Research shows that living in a home with firearms increases the risk that someone will experience firearm-related harm, including kids.”

— Rocco Pallin

Most respondents, approximately 78%, were supportive of health care providers talking with patients about safe firearm practices when there were children or teens in the home.

In addition, a little over half of those who owned firearms, and more than three-quarters who lived in homes with firearms, thought it was always appropriate for parents to ask about unlocked guns in the homes where their children play.

“Some California adults may not be aware of the increased risk of injury when firearms are kept in homes where children live. We found broad support for conversations between health care providers and patients, as well as between parents and caregivers, about steps people can take to reduce children’s access to guns kept in the home,” Pallin said. “We should grow our focus on collaborative work, especially work that involves gun owners, to create interventions that help people take steps towards safer storage.”

Additional authors on the study are Garen Wintemute and Nicole Kravitz-Wirtz from the VPRP.

Article: Pallin et al. (2021) Firearm Practices, Perceptions of Safety, and Opinions on Injury Prevention Strategies Among California Adults, JAMA Network Open, DOI:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.19146

This work was supported by the UC Firearm Violence Research Center, with funds from the State of California. Additional support comes from The California Wellness Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation and the UC Davis Violence Prevention Research Program.

The UC Davis Violence Prevention Research Program (VPRP) is a multi-disciplinary program of research and policy development focused on the causes, consequences and prevention of violence. Studies assess firearm violence, the social conditions that underlie violence, and the connections between violence, substance abuse and mental illness. VPRP is home to the University of California Firearm Violence Research Center, which launched in 2017 with a $5 million appropriation from the state of California to conduct leading-edge research on firearm violence and its prevention. For more information, visit