Profile No. 52

Safe Gun Storage Campaign -- Seattle, WA

Program Type or Federal Program Source:
Program to promote safe gun storage.

Program Goal:
To reduce unintentional gun injuries among children and suicides among adults and adolescents by promoting the sale and use of handgun lockboxes.

Specific Groups Targeted by the Strategy:
Families with children and teens or homes where children are frequent visitors.

Geographical Area Targeted by the Strategy:
King County, WA (includes Seattle).

Evaluated by:
Internal data collection.

Contact Information:
Evan Simpson
Harborview Injury Prevention & Research Center
325 Ninth Avenue, P.O. Box 359960
Seattle, WA 98104
Phone: 206­521­1520

Years of Operation:

From 1991 to 1995, there were 534 firearm-related suicides, 278 firearm-related homicides, and 9 unintentional shooting deaths in King County, WA. Twenty-six percent of the suicides involved adolescents and youth under 30 years of age. In addition, there were 63 nonfatal, self-inflicted injuries, 500 assault-related injuries, and 191 injuries caused by unintentional firearm discharges. A total of 797 deaths and injuries in King County (1991 to 1995) were due to suicide or unintentional firearm discharges. A 1997 telephone survey of Seattle households revealed that more than 40 percent possessed guns. The National Survey of Private Ownership of Firearms (1994) indicates that 30 percent of handguns are stored loaded and unlocked.

Copyright © 1998 Weststock
The Safe Gun Storage Campaign was developed to reduce the rate of nonhomicide gun-related deaths and injuries in King County. Harborview Injury Prevention & Research Center, affiliated with the University of Washington, collaborated with primary care doctors, the police department, and schools to promote the use of handgun lockboxes to prevent access to firearms by children and adolescents, and thereby reduce unintentional shootings and suicides among this population. Harborview negotiated an arrangement with a major retailer, which had several department stores in the State, to sell a special lockbox for handguns and offer it at a substantially reduced cost to customers bearing coupons. The program was publicized through public service announcements and presentations to groups by the Safe Storage Coalition, which included participating primary care physicians, health care organizations, law enforcement, and schools. By calling a hotline, the public could receive coupons and a fact sheet on safe gun storage practices.

While the first 6 months of the safe storage campaign, January through June 1998, were very successful -- with more than 1,700 lockboxes sold -- program organizers discovered considerable reluctance on the part of homeowners to acknowledge the real risk of adolescent suicide. Consequently, the second phase of the Safe Gun Storage Campaign, beginning in September 1998, emphasized the need to properly store firearms to reduce the risk of any kind of firearm injury, including the unintentional discharge of guns by children, and to prevent guns from being stolen and used in crimes that caused injury or death.

The Seattle Safe Gun Storage Campaign is part of a study in five western cities, coordinated by Harborview, which is investigating gun storage attitudes and behaviors in a cross-sectional, population-based sample of households with children. Harborview will soon release a report based on this study.

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