Proper handling and storage of firearms

It can happen in seconds. A child accidentally shoots his playmate when he finds a loaded rifle in his home. A domestic dispute goes horribly wrong when a spouse reaches for a rifle in anger. A distraught father makes a split second decision to end his life along with the lives of family members.

The presence of an unlocked and loaded gun at the scene of many home shootings is often a grim and deadly reminder of the need for better gun handling and storage in Canada.

The latest statistics are alarming. Some 850 Canadians die every year from gunshot wounds. Two-thirds of suicides are committed with guns, as are nearly one third of household homicides.

While there may be little to be done about pre-meditated use of firearms, many injuries and deaths can be prevented when gun owners act more responsibly in handling and storing their firearms.

Canada Safety Council president Jack Smith believes the number of deaths from firearms can be reduced if gun owners would simply unload and lock up their firearms.
“Gun-related deaths and injuries, the majority of which occur in the home, can be prevented,” says Smith. “That is why safe storage is so important.” Children, in particular, are greatly at risk when firearms are not stored responsibly. And deaths and accidents among children are among the most preventable. “Gun owners must make sure that it’s impossible for a child to have access to a gun,” Smith explains. “Children are influenced by television and video games to believe that guns are toys. Even children who are taught respect for firearms might not realize a family gun can be left still loaded.”

This fall, the Canada Safety Council (CSC) is embarking on Canada-wide awareness campaign to remind gun owners to unload and lockup their firearms when they are not in use. It is hoped this multimedia public service campaign will help convince gun owners when a firearm is not in use it should be locked up, with a trigger or cable lock attached and its ammunition locked in a separate, safe location.

The campaign is being supported by many voices including the Dominion of Canada Rifle Association (DCRA), which represents Canadians involved in sports shooting and marksmanship. “(Our association) vigorously applies the principles of firearms safety and education through our competitions at local, provincial, national and international levels,” says Dr. Stan Frost, Executive Vice President of DCRA. “We strongly encourage all of our members to practice the safe handling and safe storage of firearms.”

When Canadians think of gun violence, they often think of urban and gang violence. But statistics show that most firearms deaths and injuries are in fact committed in the home environment. A modest estimate reveals that there is at least one gun in every eight homes in Canada.
The use of firearms in cases of domestic violence declined by 50 per cent between 1997 and 2006. However, according to Statistics Canada, 30 per cent of women who are victims of domestic homicide die from gun shot injuries.

Many deaths and injuries occur in a rural setting where guns are used for hunting, for sport and for wildlife control. Accidental shootings cause few firearm related deaths, but result in a significant number of serious injuries. For every person killed by a firearm, an estimated 2.6 are injured, many seriously. The average hospital stay related to firearms injuries is 17.7 days, according to a Canada-wide survey.

A great concern is the number of gun suicides in Canada, particularly among Canada’s aboriginal communities where hunting is a way of life. Having firearms in a home environment adds to the risk, particularly if they are left out in the open.

In a 2008 position paper, the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians reported that the majority of suicides are not premeditated, but are impulsive in nature. Suicide by firearm is particularly lethal, with a 96 per cent completion rate compared to other forms of suicides, such as overdose attempts, which are only 6.5 per cent lethal.

Aboriginal populations report a firearm suicide rate of nearly three times that of the national rate, according to the Assembly of First Nations. “One preventable tragedy related to the storage of firearms is far too many,” says Vera Pawis Tabobondung, the president of the National Association of Friendship Centres.

What You Can Do

The Canada Safety Council reminds gun owners that the safety of family and friends is in their hands. Here are important tips to ensure your home is safe.

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. Make sure the structure is difficult to break into.
  • Attach a secure locking device, such as a trigger lock or cable lock (or remove the bolt) so the gun or rifle cannot be fired.
  • Store ammunition separately or lock it up. While ammunition can be stored in the same container as the firearm, it should be locked up separately. Again, make sure it is difficult to break into.
  • Children must not have access to the keys used to lock up firearms and ammunition. Always keep them in a secure and safe place.
  • Teach children not to handle firearms without supervision.

Click here to watch PSA