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 homes 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.”
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
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, rather that 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.
Larry Keane is the National Shooting Sports Foundation Sr. VP & General Counsel.