New report on firearms in N.J. homes raises safe-storage concerns

By: - September 1, 2022 6:58 am

Some N.J. gun owners said they store their weapons unlocked, loaded, or in their cars, while about 8% of gun owners said they always or almost always carry guns outside their home, a new Rutgers University survey found. (Photo by Getty Images)

Almost 1.5 million New Jerseyans live in homes with guns, and thousands store them unlocked, loaded, in cars, and in other ways that contribute to gun violence, according to a new report from Rutgers University.

Researchers at Rutgers’ Gun Violence Research Center and Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling surveyed 1,018 adult residents in July in a study undertaken to better inform programs and policies to reduce gun violence.

The findings come as gun ownership climbs, largely due to pandemic-fueled anxieties, and as gun control nationally is eroding in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court decision in June that struck down restrictions on concealed carry.

“We need to be really thinking as a state about how we can persuasively promote secure storage, because that protects against just about every form of gun violence,” said Michael D. Anestis, executive director of the Gun Violence Research Center. “It’s a really effective tool that isn’t a threat to the Second Amendment.”

Legislation that would have established requirements and penalties for gun storage in New Jersey failed to pass last year.

The Rutgers study found:

  • About 1 in 5 New Jerseyans live in homes where firearms are typically kept, which is lower than the national average of 30-40%. Guns in the home are more common in exurban areas, the South Jersey/Philadelphia area, and Shore towns.
  • Men and white people are likelier than other demographic groups to live in a home with firearms.
  • Republicans and residents with military experience are likelier to endorse having guns in the home. These two groups also more often refused to answer researchers’ questions about guns in the home.
  • Most residents store firearms in their homes, locked and unloaded. But 15% store them unlocked, 20% store them loaded, and more than 10% store them in their vehicles.
  • About 8% of gun owners said they always or almost always carry guns outside their homes. These residents were more often male and between the ages of 45-54.

The survey had a margin of error of +/- 3.8 percentage points.

Researchers’ findings on gun storage have potentially deadly implications for gun violence, Anestis said.

Unsafe storage can raise suicide risks, boost the odds a child will handle the firearm and unintentionally shoot themselves or someone else, increase the likelihood of domestic violence becoming fatal, and put firearms more at risk for theft, trafficking, and crime use, he said. Guns stored in cars especially are ripe targets for theft and also raise the risk of road rage incidents turning deadly, he added.

Anestis said the answer here may involve law enforcement because they are most often the most credible messenger on secure firearm storage.

“So I think that might be our path — not law enforcement saying, ‘Do this or we’re gonna come catch you.’ But law enforcement modeling the behavior and saying, ‘Look, this simple step saves lives,'” he said.

Researchers also found that less than 10% of New Jerseyans have ever been asked by a medical professional about guns in the home.

That needs to change too, Anestis said. Health care providers should offer information about safe storage and gun risks in the same way they educate on other public health concerns, he added.

“There are opportunities to normalize these conversations so that it doesn’t feel like a gun grab,” he said.

Researchers will do more surveys, starting this fall, as part of a three-year study in which they hope to learn more about things like why people carry guns for protection, where they take them, and what kinds of firearms they carry, Anestis said.

“The physical presence of a firearm makes you see danger in ambiguous situations and makes you respond more aggressively to potentially threatening stimuli,” he said. “Doing a deeper dive on the data will help us develop interventions and identify safer options for people.”

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Dana DiFilippo
Dana DiFilippo

Dana DiFilippo comes to the New Jersey Monitor from WHYY, Philadelphia’s NPR station, and the Philadelphia Daily News, a paper known for exposing corruption and holding public officials accountable. Prior to that, she worked at newspapers in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and suburban Philadelphia and has freelanced for various local and national magazines, newspapers and websites. She lives in Central Jersey with her husband, a photojournalist, and their two children.