The majority of Canadian firearm owners have long guns, which they use for hunting, sport and wildlife control. About three-quarters have a rifle, and two-thirds a shotgun, according to the RCMP. Almost always, they keep these firearms at home when not in use.
“Most gun-related deaths and injuries happen in and around the home,” says Canada Safety Council president Jack Smith. “If you have firearms in your home, the best way to protect your family and visitors is to keep them unloaded and securely locked up.”
A child playing with a loaded gun and inadvertently shooting a playmate is one of the most preventable tragedies. A depressed or violent person could take an unsecured gun to harm self or someone else; about 80 per cent of gun-related deaths are suicides. The availability of firearms is especially dangerous when there is domestic violence. Statistics Canada reports that 21 per cent of intimate partner homicides are committed with a gun, usually a rifle.
Dr. Alan Drummond of the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians says long guns are a major concern for doctors in rural areas. “As an emergency physician and coroner, I have seen my share of injuries and deaths inflicted by rifles and shotguns,” he says. In his rural community, he finds that most firearm deaths and injuries are due to an impulsive act in a home where an unsafely stored gun is readily available.
The deliberate use of a firearm to harm self or others is deadly. When the gun is not easily accessible, the effort required to find and load it acts as a deterrent. That’s why firearms must be unloaded and stored in a steel cabinet, safe or vault with the keys and ammunition in a secure location.
Safe storage also prevents unintentional shootings – which are more common than most people realize. While they are rarely fatal, they can result in severe injuries.
If you have firearms in your home, or if family members visit the homes of friends who do, the Canada Safety Council advises you to check that these safe storage practices are in place:
• Ensure firearms are unloaded at all times when stored.
• Lock the firearms in a cabinet, safe or room that was built or modified specifically to store firearms safely. Make sure the structure is difficult to break into.
• Attach a secure locking device, such as a trigger lock or cable lock (or remove the bolt) so the gun or rifle cannot be fired.
• Store ammunition separately and lock it up. While ammunition can be stored in the same container as the firearm, it should be locked up separately. Again, make sure it is difficult to break into.
• Children must not have access to the keys used to lock up firearms and ammunition. Always keep them in a secure and safe place.
• Teach your children not to handle firearms without adult supervision.
Safe transport is as important as safe storage, especially for hunters who carry long guns in their vehicles. The Canada Safety Council offers these tips:
• Unload your guns when you leave the field or the forest, and place a trigger lock on the unloaded weapon before bringing it home after a hunt. Muzzleloaders can be kept loaded when being transported between hunting sites, but the firing cap or flint must be removed.
• Lock all guns in a sturdy container that doesn’t let anyone see what is inside. If you must leave your vehicle unattended while there are guns in it, lock them up in the trunk or in a similar lockable compartment. If the vehicle has no trunk or lockable compartment, put the firearms (in their containers) out of sight inside the vehicle and lock it up.