B O S T O N, May 1 -- People will put up smoke detectors to protect their homes from fires, but won't keep guns locked away from children, a new study says.
In a study of 286 parents visiting emergency rooms in North Carolina, researchers found 99 percent of the households reported having at least one smoke detector, while only 57 percent said they locked away guns in a place where kids could not get access them.
"This surprised me," says Dr. Tamera Coyne-Beasley, a pediatrician at UNC-Chapel Hill School of Medicine and senior author of the study. "I [thought] people who exercised good general safety habits would also probably have good firearm safety habits as well."
The results of the study on injury prevention practices among North Carolina parents were reported today at the Ambulatory Pediatric Association meeting in Baltimore, Md.
Bullets vs. Household Cleaners
Coyne-Beasley and her colleagues at the UNC School of Public Health also found that 36 percent of the gun-owning families "admitted" to storing their guns loaded and 45 percent said they don't use gun locks when storing them.
That further contrasts with the 72 percent of families that said they cap unused electrical outlets to protect young kids from being electrocuted and another 72 percent that store poisonous household substances out of reach of their kids.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the safest way to avoid firearm injuries in the home is to not have guns at home.
"If you must keep a gun [at home]," says Coyne-Beasley, "the safest thing to do is to unload [it] and keep it locked up. Then keep the ammunition locked up … and stored separately from the gun.
"You should also ask about the presence of guns in places where your children play or visit."
Homicide and Suicide Risk
Gun "accidents" are not necessarily the biggest risk from these family-owned guns, say the researchers.
In 1998, 55 percent of gun deaths among children aged 10 to 18 in North Carolina were homicides. Thirty-nine percent were suicides.