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Firearm retailers join with King County to promote safe gun storage as the new norm

From a press release:

New research into youth firearm deaths in King County has prompted a partnership with 10 national and local retailers to promote the secure storage of guns as a means of preventing deadly shootings.

"Gun violence is a public safety crisis. It is also a public health crisis, and I directed our staff to develop innovative strategies to reduce gun violence using a data-driven public health approach," said King County Executive Dow Constantine in a press release. "The evidence is clear: Safe storage can save lives."

The "Safe Storage Saves Lives" campaign, developed by Public Health – Seattle & King County, also includes 20 participating law enforcement agencies.

The new data is contained in a report released today by Public Health – Seattle & King County, The Impact of Firearms on King County's Children: 1999 – 2012, which documents the current risk of suicides and accidental shootings in King County and urges local leaders to promote safe storage:

More than 30,000 King County homes have a loaded and unlocked firearm.

More than 5,000 of King County's children live in homes where firearms are loaded and unlocked.

The risk of a youth suicide in King County is nine times higher in homes where firearms are kept unlocked, compared to homes where firearms are locked.

"Protecting our communities from gun violence is one of our top priorities. Making it easier for people to safely store a gun helps us reach that goal," said Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn.

How the partnership will reach out to gun owners

The "Safe Storage Saves Lives" campaign features the LOK-IT-UP website and key partners who will expand the use of safes and lockboxes:

Retailers will offer 10 to 15 percent discounts on select firearm-storage devices when they mention LOK-IT-UP or Public Health from November 25, 2013 through the end of 2014. Retailers will also distribute information about how to store a firearm safely.

Law enforcement agencies will promote locking devices to anyone seeking a Concealed Pistol License or visiting their customer service desks. Officers and deputies will also promote safe storage at community events.

"We are thrilled to have firearm retailers involved in the safety message, and we hope this partnership helps change the norms around storing firearms," said Dr. David Fleming, Director and Health Officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County.

Participating retailers include national chains such as Sports Authority and Costco, along with prominent local stores.

"We are glad to partner with King County to offer reduced-price safe-storage devices to make it easier for gun owners to make their homes and communities safer – and protect their investment, too," said Mike Coombs, co-owner of Outdoor Emporium, Sportco and FARWEST Sports.

A secure lockbox can prevent thefts as well as suicides. Last year, more than $4.5 million worth of firearms were reported stolen in Washington state, according to the Washington State Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.

"It's time for lockboxes and gun safes to become as normal as wearing a seatbelt – which would reduce firearm thefts and prevent school-based threats. That improves community safety," said King County Sheriff John Urquhart.

Law enforcement officers all too often are the first-responders who witness tragedy when firearms are left loaded and unlocked – and a curious or impulsive child is nearby.

"I have never forgotten when I responded to a 9-1-1 call and found a boy had unintentionally shot and killed his best friend with a rifle they were playing with and thought was unloaded," said Bothell Police Chief Carol Cummings. "What was so tragic to me was that this death could have been averted by safely storing the firearm."

Developing innovative strategies using a data-driven public health approach

In his State of the County address earlier this year, Executive Constantine directed Public Health – Seattle & King County to develop innovative strategies to reduce gun violence using a data-driven "public health approach," a process that's proven effective with other safety and prevention challenges, such as automobile and boating safety. Key facts from the report include:

Between 1999 and 2012, 68 children in King County under the age of 18 died from gun violence, and 25 of those were suicides.

Another 125 children were injured by firearms and had to be hospitalized.

In King County, nearly one-quarter of all households have at least one firearm, and among those with firearms, an estimated 17% (31,200 households) stored them loaded and unlocked.

During the 2011–2012 school year, 52 King County students were suspended or expelled for possessing a firearm on public school grounds.

The report also finds that further progress on reducing firearm violence is hampered by scattered and incomplete data on gun violence, especially pertaining to children. Basing new policies and programs on data and evidence will depend on creating new systems for sharing data across agencies.

In the meantime, the report says safe storage is an important first step toward eliminating firearm deaths among King County's youth. Research has shown that parents can become complacent as their children get older and don't realize it could be their child or a friend who accesses their firearms.

"We want gun retailers to talk as much about safe-storage as a car dealer talks about the air-bags and safety features in a new car," said Dr. Fleming.

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