April 17, 2020 Press Releases

Increased Risk Of Unintentional Shootings During COVID-19

Millions of children at home and record gun sales heighten risk of unintentional shootings

SEATTLE, WA – As children and Washingtonians of all ages spend the foreseeable future at home, and as gun sales soar, the risk of unintentional shootings is at an all-time high. Safe firearm storage—keeping guns unloaded, locked, and separate from ammunition—is more important than ever. 

School districts across the country and here in Washington state have shifted to online learning for the remainder of the school year, forcing working parents to balance child care and working from home or working essential jobs outside the home. That means many children will be spending time unsupervised or with a new caregiver. It is essential that all gun owners practice safe storage to reduce the risk of unintentional shootings and firearm suicide. 

In the United States, 4.6 million children live in a home with access to an unlocked or unsupervised firearm. A majority of gun owners in Washington state do not safely store their firearms, leaving children at great risk for unintentional shootings. And three quarters of children know where guns are located in their homes. Too often, this means that a child’s curiosity becomes deadly. On average, eight children a day are killed or injured by guns left unlocked and loaded. 

Individuals who panic-bought firearms in response to COVID-19 may be at particular risk of unintentional shootings, as these buyers likely could not access safety training and may not have gun safes, trigger locks, or other devices for securing their weapons. Unfortunately, we have already seen the deadly consequences of inexperienced gun ownership. A man in Albuquerque, New Mexico who told authorities he bought a gun because of the Coronavirus outbreak shot and killed his 13-year-old cousin on March 19th. He didn’t think the gun was loaded. 

The good news is safe storage works. Research shows that safe firearm storage reduces the risk of unintentional shootings by 73 percent. Safe storage also helps prevent firearm suicide. Over 80 percent of child firearm suicides involved a gun belonging to a family member. 

Fortunately, Washington voters approved safe storage incentives with the passage of Initiative 1639. The law’s safe storage provision holds irresponsible gun owners legally accountable if a child or another prohibited person accesses their firearm and uses it to cause harm. Access prevention laws like this have proven to be effective in preventing unintentional shootings. Access prevention laws can reduce suicide and unintentional gun deaths and injuries among children and teens by up to 54 percent

Learn more about the benefits of safe storage here and from King’s County Lock It Up Program here