Safe Storage: The Key to Firearm Safety at Home

By Ethel Archard

In June of this year, some children in Cranbrook, B.C. were playing around with a shotgun owned by one of their parents, when a 10-year-old boy accidentally shot and killed a 17-year-old boy.

 A child playing with a loaded gun and inadvertently shooting a playmate is a parent’s worst nightmare. Some three per cent of firearms deaths are unintentional, with many of the victims being children, followed by hunters and sport shooters. In 72 per cent of the cases involving children, the firearm belonged to a household member, relative, friend or friend’s parent.

“The best way to protect children from unintentional shootings is to keep your firearms unloaded and securely locked up when they are not in use,” advises Canada Safety Council president Jack Smith. Firearms should be locked in a steel cabinet, safe or vault designed for that purpose. Keep the keys to your firearms and ammunition in a secure location.

Most gun-related deaths and injuries in the home environment are self-inflicted or connected with domestic problems. In fact, most gun-related deaths and injuries occur in the home environment.

In many parts of Canada, especially rural areas, firearm ownership is relatively high. Rifles and shot guns kept in the home are used for hunting and sports shooting, as well as to protect livestock and crops. These firearm-related deaths and injuries – by and large not reported in the media – are more likely to happen in these areas than in urban areas.

Dr. Alan Drummond is an emergency physician and coroner in the small, idyllic rural community of Perth, Ontario. He has seen his share of injuries and deaths inflicted by rifles and shotguns.

“These casualties have involved people who seemed quite normal, but an unsafely stored long gun was readily available,” says Dr. Drummond, who works with the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians to address this issue. “Suicide, contrary to public opinion, is often an impulsive act, and in the assaults and murders I have seen that have involved guns, the perpetrators also acted on impulse.”

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.

“Hunting and gathering is our way of life and will continue to be for generations to come,” explains Vera Pawis Tabobondung, President of the National Association of Friendship Centres.

“Since the days of the traditional bow and arrow of long ago, to today’s use of firearms, the safe use and storage of these hunting tools must be practiced within the Aboriginal home and community at all times,” she continues. “As a grandmother, I encourage Aboriginal people young and old to remember to use firearms for what they were meant for – to sustain life by providing for your family and your community. Respect your firearms and keep them securely locked up when they’re not in use. Protect what is sacred to us all, life.”

The majority of owners use their firearms for hunting, target or sport shooting and collecting. Most Canadian firearms owners have rifles or shotguns, with only 12 per cent owning handguns.

Canadians who want to own a firearm have to take the Canadian Firearms Safety Course (CFSC) and pass the tests, or challenge and pass the CFSC tests if they don’t take the course. For restricted firearms, an additional course is required.

Terry Pratt teaches these courses in the Ottawa area. Part of the course deals with how to store firearms safely in the home. “The firearm must be unloaded and rendered inoperable,” he says. “Remove the bolt or bolt carrier, or use a trigger lock, or a cable lock, depending on the firearm action. These locks can be cheap or expensive, with either keyed or combination lock. Personally I prefer the combination lock.” He stresses that firearms should be trigger locked and placed in a locked gun case, a gun safe or a room specially built for the storage of firearms.

Colette Bellavance, General Manager of the Saskatchewan Association for Firearm Education (SAFE) agrees that safety measures must be followed at all times when dealing with firearms. "Always unload your firearm when it's not in use, never have a loaded firearm in a vehicle and when returning to a vehicle or camp after hunting, unload your firearm away from the vehicle or camp. Remember, 80 per cent of all firearm accidents happen within 10 meters of the muzzle. So always think safety first!”

SAFE is a non-profit association of firearm safety and hunter educators, and others with a common purpose of promoting safe, ethical hunting as a worthwhile way of life and the shooting sports as safe, respectable forms of recreation.

If you have firearms in your home, or if your family members visit the homes of friends who do, make sure safe storage practices are in place.

Firearm Safety Tips for the Home

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 and 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.