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Poor firearm safety puts Kentucky kids at risk

EDITORIAL

The Advocate-Messenger

Kentuckians could be doing a lot better when it comes to gun safety.

A recent survey shows that almost two out of every three Kentucky adults who keep a loaded gun in their home also do not keep it locked up.

The practice of keeping guns loaded but unlocked is a huge contributor to accidental gun injuries, including tragic deaths of children.

The Kentucky Health Issues Poll taken in the last quarter of 2019 revealed that more than half of Kentucky adults — 55% — keep a firearm in their homes. That’s well above the national average of 42%.

Kentucky is a state where the majority of people are gun owners or have familiarity with firearms. Ideally, a state with such a strong rate of gun ownership and usage would also have high rates of gun-safety best practices. But that does not appear to be the case right now in the commonwealth.

Out of the 55% of people who keep a gun in their home, just over half of them keep their gun loaded, according to the survey. Of those who keep a loaded gun, about 64% also leave their gun unlocked.

That would be one thing if those loaded, unlocked guns were only in the homes of people who don’t have children. It’s still not the best safety choice, but if the guns are only ever around adults who are competent with and respectful of guns, it’s at least a very small risk.

But that is not the case. Even in homes with children, well over half of people who keep their guns loaded also leave them unlocked.

And this dangerous practice isn’t a new development. This isn’t the first time the KHIP survey has looked at gun ownership and safety: The rates of loaded, unlocked guns were almost identical back in 2011.

“We’re not making any progress in the most basic step that gun owners can take to protect against tragic and often deadly accidents,” said Ben Chandler, president and CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, which co-sponsored the poll. “Locking up your guns and keeping the ammunition in a separate place is recommended by multiple child-health and safety organizations to keep them out of the hands of kids who are either just curious or seriously considering harming themselves or others.”

Given these data, it’s sadly unsurprising that Kentucky’s rate of accidental firearm deaths is 35% higher than the national average, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

No one wants to put themselves or especially their own children at risk of being seriously injured or killed by a firearm. We believe a major obstacle to improving this situation is a lack of awareness about the problem.

We need more people — especially people who are gun owners — to see the data and learn about best practices for keeping their guns as safely as possible.  We also need to push back on bad ideas, like, “that sounds scary but it will never happen to me.”

It is true that even if nothing changes, the vast majority of unlocked, loaded guns won’t wind up being fired accidentally, potentially injuring or killing someone. But if we’re going to ignore bad but uncommon outcomes; if we’re not going to take simple, easy precautions against worst-case scenarios, then we also need to stop wearing seat-belts and we might as well let babies play with choking hazards.

The idea that “it could never happen to me” is one of those insidious lies that’s true until the day it isn’t.

There’s no reason for Kentuckians to keep taking such a risk. Let’s all start locking up our firearms today, so there are more tomorrows for our children.