New study: law officers promote gun locks, but don't seem to like using them

September 04, 2001

(Embargoed) CHAPEL HILL - Law enforcement officers encourage the public to use special locks to make stored guns less dangerous, but they don't seem to like using the locks themselves, a new University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill study suggests. One surveyed officer said they are "like putting an anchor on a life jacket."

Researchers offered keyed cable gun locks free to all 207 officers in a Southern town, according to Dr. Tamera Coyne-Beasley, assistant professor of community pediatrics and internal medicine at the UNC School of Medicine. Only half the officers picked up the free devices, Coyne-Beasley said. In response to a questionnaire, two-thirds of those who accepted them later said they were not using the locks.

"Fifty-six percent of the officers disagreed that gun lock use should be required," the physician said. "Very few cited any actual or potential technical problems with the device. An important reason given for non-use of gun locks related to being able to access the weapon quickly in case of an emergency."

A report on the findings appears in the September issue of Injury Prevention, a professional journal. Co-author is doctoral student Renee M. Johnson of the UNC School of Public Health.

"Research on firearm safety and safety devices is important because suicide, homicide and unintentional injury deaths due to firearms are a major public health problem in the United States," Coyne-Beasley said. "The total firearm-related injury death rate for youth here is 16 times higher than the rate for other industrialized nations, and the unintentional gun-related death rate is nine times higher."

Children and other young peoples' relatively easy access to firearms is a major contributor to the epidemic, she said. "Our findings highlight the need for further investigation into how law enforcement officers' attitudes affect their firearm safety counseling and officers' attitudes toward gun locks and other safety devices," Coyne-Beasley said. Officers' attitudes may be influenced by the fact that most extrinsic gun safety devices, including gun locks, have not been evaluated, she said. Although the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has begun to evaluate gun and trigger locks, the commission has not identified locks tested or said which ones failed tests.

"In fact, some gun and trigger locks have been recalled after going on the market," the physician said. "Most recently, Project HomeSafe sponsored by the National Shooting Sports Foundation discontinued distribution of their gun locks -- not those used in our study -- after it was found they could be broken open.

"These types of problems may cause distrust of gun safety technology by officers and may be an underlying reason for the low gun lock use in this study. It may be important to continue to have law enforcement officers engaged in developing and evaluating gun safety devices and technologies."

In a related study released in August, Coyne-Beasley and colleagues found that 44 percent of officers surveyed kept their weapons both unlocked and loaded at home, which could put them and their families at increased risk for firearm-related injuries. Eighty-five percent said they felt an added need to protect themselves and their families because of their work in law enforcement.

The authors support continued development and evaluation of extrinsic safety devices, personalized guns and other engineering efforts to ensure that those keeping guns for protection can store them safely but also access them quickly.
Note: Coyne-Beasley can be reached at 919-843-9942 or

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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