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Most States Don't Require Guns To Be Locked Up


The 17-year-old who allegedly killed 10 people at Santa Fe High School in Texas reportedly used a shotgun and handgun owned by his father. As we just heard, unsecured firearms came up during the Texas roundtables. Studies show that kids who hurt themselves or others with guns often use weapons found at home. Advocates say safe storage laws could prevent a lot of that violence. But most states don't require people to keep guns locked away. North Country Public Radio's Brian Mann reports.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: There are hundreds of millions of guns in America, many of them owned by parents like Antonios Pagourtzis. Pagourtzis confirmed in an interview with Antenna, a Greek television channel, that his son used the father's weapons allegedly killing teachers and classmates in Santa Fe, Texas.


ANTONIOS PAGOURTZIS: (Through interpreter) My child didn't have guns. I had guns. As they say, he took them from the cabinet.

MANN: It's still unclear how exactly the 17-year-old gained access to his father's weapons. But research suggests more than 1.7 million American kids live in homes with guns that aren't secured. At a press conference after the Santa Fe shooting, Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick said that has to change.


DAN PATRICK: If you're a parent and you own guns, lock your guns safely away.

MANN: Even as more firearms are sold to civilians, the number of people using storage lockers, guns safes and trigger locks has lagged. At the NRA'S annual convention earlier this month, Donald Blust was working the crowd, trying to convince gun buyers to also purchase his brand of high-tech pistol boxes, which unlock quickly using a smartphone app.

DONALD BLUST: I don't want my 7-year-old to have access to my pistol box, but I want ready access to my pistol box.

MANN: What happens if your 7-year-old gets hold of your smartphone?

BLUST: I let my 7-year-old watch Netflix on my smartphone all the time, but if he attempts to launch the app, it's going to ask him either for my face or my thumb print.

MANN: Everyone, including the NRA, agrees this kind of safe storage is preferable, especially as the technology grows more convenient. Where this gets controversial is when lawmakers and activists try to make it mandatory. Dr. Fred Rivara is a pediatrician and gun safety researcher in Seattle, Wash., who says states should require gun owners to lock up firearms.

FREDERICK RIVARA: Safe storage works, and studies done here in Seattle show that having guns locked up decreases the risk of unintentional shootings and suicides among youth by 75 to 80 percent.

MANN: Now there are a wide variety of quick, convenient storage options. Rivara says studies suggest tougher laws would encourage people to use them. Right now, about a dozen states have some kind of mandatory storage rules, but only Massachusetts has a law requiring that all firearms be secured without exemptions.

JASON GUIDA: Do people face serious penalties for that? The DA's offices - they prosecute them, and they take them very seriously.

MANN: Jason Guida is a Massachusetts attorney who represents gun owners. He says especially in cases involving children, people who leave weapons unprotected in the Commonwealth can face serious prison time.

GUIDA: A minor having access to the firearm - I've seen those cases prosecuted to the nth degree.

MANN: Gun safety advocates want similar criminal penalties on the books nationwide. But in the current gun control debate, storage laws haven't gained much traction. In part, that's because gun rights activists like Marion Hammer oppose mandatory requirements. The former NRA president spoke earlier this month with NPR's Mary Louise Kelly.


MARION HAMMER: Coming into my home and telling me how to store my firearms is like the government coming into my home and telling me how to do anything else. You cannot let government be your mother.

MANN: Roughly 1,300 kids die each year in America from gun violence. Because gun storage rules are such a hodgepodge and there's so little research into gun violence patterns, it's difficult to say how many parents are ever prosecuted or sued when their firearms wind up harming kids. Brian Mann, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Brian Mann is NPR's first national addiction correspondent. He also covers breaking news in the U.S. and around the world.
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