March 8, 2012

Installing gun cabinets in homes improves safe firearm storage

In study with rural Alaska Native people, gun cabinets reduce unlocked guns in homes

Seattle, WA—Installing a gun cabinet dramatically reduces unlocked guns and ammunition in the home, according to a study in rural Alaska villages where the residents are primarily Alaska Native people. Group Health Research Institute Senior Investigator David Grossman, MD, MPH, led the research, which the American Journal of Public Health e-published on March 8. Dr. Grossman is also a pediatrician and medical director for preventive care at Group Health and University of Washington (UW) professor of health services.

Dr. Grossman’s research team included representatives from the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC), two Native health organizations (Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation and Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation), village tribal governments, and faculty from UW Medicine’s Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center. They identified households in six Alaska Native villages in the Bristol Bay and Yukon Kuskokwin Delta area of western Alaska.

The study was a randomized trial with 255 gun-owning households. An $80 locking metal gun cabinet was installed free of charge in the homes, with participants given a brief safety message and instructions on how to use the gun cabinet, including keeping the key in a secure place. The households were divided into two groups, with cabinet installation in the “early” group happening 12 months before installation in the “late” group.

To measure the effect of the gun cabinets, the household member most knowledgeable about the guns in the home took a 13-question survey about how the guns and ammunition were stored. The questions were asked by a researcher visiting the home before, and 12 and 18 months after installation of the gun cabinet.

When the study began,

  • 93 percent of participating households reported at least one unlocked gun in the home;
  • 89 percent reported unlocked ammunition.

One year after the study began, when early group homes had gun cabinets for 12 months but cabinets were not yet installed in late-group homes,

  • 35 percent of households in the early group reported unlocked guns in the home;
  • 89 percent of households in the late group, without gun cabinets, reported unlocked guns (declining to 35 percent, six months after receiving a cabinet);
  • 35 percent of homes in the early group reported unlocked ammunition;
  • 84 percent in the late group reported unlocked ammunition.

Dr. Grossman showed in a 2005 JAMA study on U.S. youth that safe firearm storage reduced the risk of unintentional injury and suicide. He conducted this work at UW Medicine’s Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center, with which he is still affiliated. Alaska Native people have a suicide rate more than three times greater than white Americans. Among Alaska Native men aged 15 to 19, firearm-related suicides were more than 10 times higher than for U.S. white male teenagers in 2000–2006.

“We learned from a small, successful, community-based pilot project that installing gun cabinets in homes in an Alaskan Native village increased safe household firearm storage,” Dr. Grossman said. “This current study showed conclusively that it can work in other rural Native villages, and the effects are quite durable over time.”

Further discussing the current study, Dr. Grossman added: “This community-supported program to install gun cabinets in homes in rural Alaskan Native villages is feasible and acceptable and clearly reduces exposure of children and teens to unlocked guns and ammunition. If these results are maintained over time, gun-related injuries and deaths could be reduced in this population.”

ANTHC’s Injury Prevention Program estimates that over 300 gun safes have been placed in rural homes in the past four years. ANTHC provided initial support for the gun safe project in 2008, inviting tribal injury prevention and housing authority staff from regions with an established injury prevention program. From there, regions identified funding and determined how to implement the project locally.

In collaboration with multiple partners, healthy choices are promoted as a means to prevent injury and support community wellness. In addition to suicide prevention and gun safety, ANTHC’s Injury Prevention Program focuses on water safety, traumatic brain injury prevention, and fall prevention. Education, advocacy, and coalition-building are ways in which this is achieved.

Dr. Grossman is affiliated with UW Medicine’s Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center and the UW School of Public Health. His co-authors were Helen Andon Stafford, EdM, and Ryan Hill, MPH, who were at ANTHC at the time of this study; Thomas D. Koepsell, MD, MPH, professor emeritus of epidemiology and health services at the UW School of Public Health; Kyla D. Retzer, MPH, formerly of the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation and ANTHC and now at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health; and Ward Jones, MA, of the Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Indian Health Serviceeach provided funding for the study.

Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center

UW Medicine’s Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center is a worldwide leader in researching how people suffer injuries and what can be done to prevent them. Founded in 1985, the Center is one of 12 injury-control centers supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the country. The Center is affiliated with the University of Washington and Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

UW Medicine

The UW Medicine health system includes Harborview Medical Center, Northwest Hospital & Medical Center, Valley Medical Center, UW Medical Center, UW Neighborhood Clinics, UW Physicians, UW School of Medicine, and Airlift Northwest. UW Medicine also shares in the ownership and governance of Children’s University Medical Group and Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, a partnership among UW Medicine, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and Seattle Children’s. UW Medicine has major academic and service affiliations with Seattle Children’s, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, the Veteran’s Affairs Puget Sound Health Care System in Seattle, and the VA Hospital in Boise, Idaho. The UW School of Medicine is the top public institution for biomedical research in funding received from the National Institutes of Health. For more information about UW Medicine, visit http://www.uwmedicine.org.

Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium

The Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC) is a not-for-profit tribal health organization managed by Alaska Native tribal governments and their regional health organizations. ANTHC provides statewide services in specialty medical care; construction of water, sanitation and health facilities; community health and research; information technology and professional recruiting. For more information, see www.anthc.org

Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation

Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation (YKHC) administers a comprehensive health care delivery system for 50 rural communities in southwest Alaska. The system includes community clinics, subregional clinics, a regional hospital, dental services, behavioral health services including substance abuse counseling and treatment, health promotion and disease prevention programs, and environmental health services. YKHC is a Tribal Organization authorized by each of the 58 federally recognized Tribal councils in its services area to negotiate with the Federal Indian Health Services to provide health care services under Title V of the Indian Self Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975. YKHC along with 22 other Tribal Organizations, is a co-signer to the Alaska Tribal Health Compact, a consortium which secures annual funding agreements with the federal government to provide health care services to Alaska Natives and Native Americans throughout the state. For more information, see www.ykhc.org

Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation

The Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation was formed by Bristol Bay tribes in 1973 to provide health services to residents of Southwest Alaska. It serves 34 villages and employs over 360 health care professionals. For more information, see www.bbahc.org.

About Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute

Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute (KPWHRI), formerly Group Health Research Institute, improves the health and health care of Kaiser Permanente members and the public. The Institute has conducted nonproprietary public-interest research on preventing, diagnosing, and treating major health problems since 1983. Government and private research grants provide our main funding. Follow KPWHRI research on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, or YouTube. For more information, go to: www.kpwashingtonresearch.org.

About Kaiser Permanente 

Kaiser Permanente is committed to helping shape the future of health care. We are recognized as one of America’s leading health care providers and not-for-profit health plans. Founded in 1945, Kaiser Permanente has a mission to provide high-quality, affordable health care services and to improve the health of our members and the communities we serve. We currently serve more than 12.2 million members in eight states and the District of Columbia. Care for members and patients is focused on their total health and guided by their personal Permanente Medical Group physicians, specialists and team of caregivers. Our expert and caring medical teams are empowered and supported by industry-leading technology advances and tools for health promotion, disease prevention, state-of-the-art care delivery and world-class chronic disease management. Kaiser Permanente is dedicated to care innovations, clinical research, health education and the support of community health. For more information, go to: kp.org/share.

Study link:

Improving firearm storage in Alaska native villages: a randomized trial of household gun cabinets


Media contact

For more on Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute news, please contact:

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