University of Washington School of Public Health

UW SPH News: Alcohol misuse and unsafely-stored firearms could be a dangerous mix for children

Alcohol misuse and unsafely-stored firearms could be a dangerous mix for children

11/30/2018
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In Washington state, an estimated 470,000 children under 18 live in a firearm-owning household. Among them, over half live in a household in which a firearm has not been safely stored by being unloaded and locked up.

gun and alcohol photo

new study led by the University of Washington School of Public Health suggests these children are at increased risk of self-harm and interpersonal violence. The study, which was the first of its kind to investigate this association at a statewide level, was published November 19 in JAMA Pediatrics.

The researchers looked at Washington state’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System data from 2013 and 2016. The 5,530 participants were asked questions regarding firearm ownership and storage practices as well as alcohol consumption and the sociodemographic characteristics of children in their household.

In firearm-owning households, 67 percent of children living with an adult who misused alcohol were exposed to at least one unsafely stored firearm, compared with 51 percent of children living with an adult who reported no alcohol misuse.

This research indicates the need for improved firearm storage in homes with children,” said Erin Morgan, lead author and a doctoral student in the department of epidemiology at the University of  Washington School of Public Health. “Kids who live in a household with an adult who misuses alcohol are more likely to live with an unsafely stored firearm. Given that these children may already be at heightened risk for injury, this can be a dangerous combination.”

According to prior research, young people are at a vulnerable age for self-inflicted and interpersonal violence, such as suicide and bullying. These factors may be exacerbated by alcohol use among parents or guardians.

Contributing authors of the study were Ali Rowhani-Rahbar, the Bartley Dobb Professor for the Study and Prevention of Violence and associate professor of epidemiology at the UW School of Public Health; Anthony Gomez, manager of the Violence and Injury Prevention Unit at Public Health – Seattle & King County and clinical instructor of health services at the UW School of Public Health; and Frederick Rivara, professor of pediatrics at the UW School of Medicine and adjunct professor of epidemiology at the UW School of Public Health. The study was funded in part by Grandmothers Against Gun Violence.