Unload and Lock your Firearms – Store Them Safely!

September 15, 2009

Most of the firearms in this country are long guns used in hunting and target shooting. Government statistics show 76 per cent of firearms owners have a rifle, 67 per cent a shotgun and 12 per cent a handgun.

While firearm ownership is fairly common in rural and native households, few city dwellers have a gun in the home. In the Yukon and the Northwest Territories, where the rate of gun ownership is highest, 32 per cent of all adults legally own one or more firearms. Ontario has the lowest rate of gun ownership, at nine per cent.

“Gun-related deaths and injuries, the majority of which occur in the home, can be prevented,” says Jack Smith, President of Canada Safety Council. “That is why safe storage is so important. Keep firearms unloaded and securely locked up when they are not in use. We recommend a locking steel cabinet, safe or vault designed for that purpose.”

A child playing with a loaded gun and inadvertently shooting a playmate is one of the most preventable tragedies. “Make it impossible for any child in the home to access a gun,” advises Smith. He describes the necessary safety precautions, “Use a locking device or remove the bolt to prevent your guns from being fired. Store ammunition and firearms separately and lock them up. And keep the keys to your firearms and ammunition in a secure, childproof location.”

The main safety issues when there are firearms in the home are: children playing with firearms; a depressed or violent person taking an unsecured gun to harm himself or someone else; and guns being stolen for use in crime. Almost one-third of spousal homicides are committed with a gun.

In northern communities where hunting is a way of life, firearms are present in many homes, so safe storage is a major safety concern. “One preventable tragedy related to the storage of firearms is far too many,” says Vera Pawis Tabobondung, president of the National Association of Friendship Centres.

The latest statistics show about 850 firearm deaths a year in Canada, of which about three-quarters are suicides. For every person killed by a firearm, an estimated 2.6 are injured.

Most suicidal individuals can be helped, and can go on to lead meaningful lives. However, the chances of surviving a suicide attempt by firearm are very low. Having firearms in the home is clearly a risk factor for suicide. Suicide rates are higher in aboriginal communities, where many households have firearms.

Accidental shootings cause relatively few firearm-related deaths, but a significant number of injuries, especially in rural areas. According to an Ontario report, they represented 63 per cent out of the total 624 emergency department visits from gunshot wounds, and 39 per cent of the 199 admissions. A Canada-wide study found the average hospital stay for firearm injuries treated in trauma centres was 17.7 days, indicating firearm injuries can be very serious.

A modest estimate is that Canada-wide at least one out of every eight households has a gun. Firearms can be used for hunting, for sport, or for protection from wildlife, but no matter what a firearm is used for, taking all safety precautions into account can prevent fatalities and injuries.

“The Dominion of Canada Rifle Association (DCRA) vigorously applies the principles of firearms safety and education through our competitions at local, provincial, national and international levels,” states Dr. Stan Frost, Executive Vice President of DCRA. “We strongly encourage all our members to practice safe handling and safe storage of firearms.”

Overall, most firearm deaths and injuries occur in the home environment. Few are related to crime; by and large, they happen simply because a gun is accessible and not securely stored. That is why a new public service announcement from the Canada Safety Council focuses on safe storage. If there are firearms in the home, they are far less likely to cause harm when they are kept unloaded and locked up.

Firearm Safety Tips for the Home

It is important to store your firearms safely to prevent accidents and deter loss or theft. It’s also required by law.

UNLOAD AND LOCK YOUR FIREARMS

  • Ensure firearms are unloaded at all times when stored.
  • Lock the firearms in a cabinet, safe or room that was built or modified specifically to store firearms safely, and difficult to break into, or
  • Attach a secure locking device, such as a trigger lock or cable lock (or remove the bolt) so the firearms cannot be fired.
  • Store ammunition separately or lock it up. It can be stored in the same locked gun cabinet/safe as the firearms only if they are securely locked and the container is constructed so that it cannot be readily broken into.
  • Make sure that children do not have access to the keys used to lock up your firearms and ammunition.
  • Teach children not to handle firearms without adult supervision.

For more information, please contact:
Emile Therien
Past President
Canada Safety Council
(613) 737-4965

Valerie Powell
Communications and Media Program Coordinator
Canada Safety Council
(613) 739-1535 (ext. 228)