Twelve percent of Kentucky adults who live with underage children say they keep at least one loaded, unsecured gun in or near their homes, according to poll results released Tuesday by the nonprofit Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky in Louisville.
Overall, 59 percent of adults who live with young children told pollsters they have one or more firearms at home. Most said they keep their weapons unloaded or locked away, or both. Men were more likely than women to report keeping a gun, and Kentuckians in suburban and rural counties were more likely than those in urban counties.
The results came from the foundation’s telephone survey last Sept. 11 through Oct. 19, asking 1,580 randomly selected Kentucky adults about a variety of health issues. Pollsters interviewed 827 people on landlines and 753 on cellphones; the statewide margin of error was plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents of young children not have guns in the home. If they do have guns, parents should keep them unloaded and securely locked away from the ammunition, the medical group says. Leaving guns where children can find them puts the children at greater risk of accidental shooting or gun-related suicide, the group says.
It’s sobering to realize that more than 1 in 10 Kentucky adults living with children have a gun lying around, said Ben Chandler, the foundation’s president.
“We certainly think that everyone should, at a minimum, lock up their guns,” said Chandler, a former Democratic congressman from Central Kentucky. “If we can’t get people to do this voluntarily, then we need a legislative solution.”
Upset by news stories about Kentucky children accidentally shooting themselves or other children with guns they discovered in their homes, state Sen. Gerald Neal, D-Louisville, filed Senate Bill 28 in January. The bill would create the misdemeanor offense of “unlawful storage of a firearm” for people who leave their guns unsecured if minors get access to them. Realistically, it’s unlikely that police would even know about an unsecured gun unless a child-related shooting occurred, Neal said.
The Kentucky Senate has not acted on the bill during the 30-day legislative session that ends Thursday.
“That was very low-hanging fruit, given what’s at stake in these cases, and I deliberately constructed it to be that way. It’s not a gun control bill; it’s a gun safety bill. Nothing in that bill should have spooked anybody,” Neal said.
It’s difficult to say how many Kentucky children shoot themselves or others after finding a gun in their home.
Kentucky State Police told legislative staffers who were researching Neal’s bill that they do not track such information. In 1996, Congress banned the use of federal funds in public health research if the results “may be used to advocate or promote gun control.” Since then, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other agencies, have cut back on their study of firearms-related injuries and deaths.
Several gun control or gun safety advocacy groups publish their own sets of data online based on individual news reports. One such group, Gun Violence Archive, counted eight children dead and seven children wounded by gunfire in Kentucky last year.
In September, 3-year-old Anthony Blake Wells found a loaded gun hidden behind his family’s television and fatally shot himself in the head on Brashear Drive in Louisville. Weeks earlier, also on Brashear Drive, a 4-year-old girl found a loaded gun inside her apartment and shot herself. She was expected to survive.