From University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Law enforcement officers leaving loaded guns unlocked, study shows (Embargoed) CHAPEL HILL – Law enforcement officers, who publicly promote firearm safety, often do not store their own guns safely at home, a new University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill study suggests. Forty-four percent of officers surveyed kept their weapons both unlocked and loaded.
"This may put officers and their families at increased risk for firearm-related injuries," said Dr. Tamera Coyne-Beasley, assistant professor of community pediatrics and internal medicine at the UNC School of Medicine.
Coyne-Beasley led the research, which focused on officers in an unidentified Southern law enforcement agency. A report on the findings appears in the August issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
Researchers surveyed 207 officers, 60 percent of whom were white and 89 percent of whom were male, and asked about guns and gun storage.
"Eight of 10 officers kept a firearm, usually a handgun, in addition to their service weapon," Coyne-Beasley said. "Not surprisingly, that was a higher rate of gun ownership than estimates for the general population. Between 35 percent and 50 percent of U.S. residents own guns, according to different estimates."
Fifty-nine percent of surveyed officers reported storing firearms unlocked, and 68 percent kept their guns loaded, she said.
Respondents overwhelmingly favored mandatory safety training for gun owners and enforcement of firearm storage and registration laws.
"The job itself may influence officers' firearm safety behavior, as 85 percent said they felt an added need to protect themselves and their families because of their work in law enforcement," she said. "Many officers perceived themselves as vulnerable to attack from those they arrested in the line of duty."
Many mentioned that they had been threatened by those they arrested, had seen people they had arrested in the community when they were off duty or knew that arrestees could obtain their addresses from the Internet.
"Those owning firearms for self-protection were more likely to keep their firearms loaded," Coyne-Beasley said.
Family composition also affected safety procedures, she said. Clearly, officers recognized the importance of storing guns safely in homes with children. Those with children were about twice as likely to employ safer storage methods as those in households without children.
"An important factor underlying officers’ unsafe storage practices relates to keeping firearms accessible for purposes of self-protection," Coyne-Beasley said. "This research highlights the need to further develop firearm safety devices that allow officers, who put their lives on the line daily, to store their weapons safely in the home inaccessible to children, yet quickly accessible to them. It also demonstrates the need to develop other ways to make agents feel safe in their homes and communities."
Because all respondents worked at a single law enforcement agency, the findings might or might not be representative of agencies elsewhere, she said.
Note: For copies of the article, contact the Center for the Advancement of Health at 202-387-2829 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Coyne-Beasley can be reached at 919-843-9942. Contact: David Williamson, 919-962-8596