ECU Experts Examine Data on Gun Safety, Public Health

Report finds nearly one in 10 Americans live in a home with a loaded and unlocked gun

Dec. 6, 2018 18:00 UTC

Report finds nearly one in 10 Americans live in a home with a loaded and unlocked gun

GREENVILLE, N.C.--(BUSINESS WIRE)-- Nearly one in 10 Americans lives in a home with a loaded and unlocked gun, according to a report released by East Carolina University’s Center for Survey Research: “Unlocked and Loaded: Guns in the Home and Safety Practices in America.”

In the report, ECU faculty members and report co-authors Dr. Ann Rafferty and Dr. Joseph Lee write, “Firearm violence is a serious public health issue and firearm presence and safe storage are key components.

“The role of gun use and safety practices in our health as a nation is often lost in debates about the politics of gun control. This is concerning to health researchers given that almost as many Americans died from gunshots in 2016 as died in motor vehicle crashes.” Rafferty is an associate professor of public health at ECU’s Brody School of Medicine, and Lee is an assistant professor in the College of Health and Human Performance.

The ECU report asked American gun owners about their safety practices, and 25 percent of those surveyed who own firearms said they have one or more loaded and unlocked firearms in their home. The survey results show no major differences in gun safety practices between those living in rural versus metropolitan areas, nor major differences separating Democrats from Republicans.

The report also produced information regarding firearm safety practices based on mental health and feelings of social isolation and depression. Though respondents who have mental or emotional problems did not show significant difference in gun ownership, if there are firearms in the household, they are 15 percent more likely to have a loaded and unlocked firearm in their home. People who feel isolated are also more likely to live in a house with a loaded and unlocked firearm.

Additional highlights from the report include:

  • Thirty-seven percent of American adults report there is a firearm kept in and around their home.
  • One in four American adults who report having firearms in their home report unsafe gun storage.
  • Those in firearm households earning less than $40,000 a year are more likely to report the presence of loaded and unlocked firearms in their residence.

According to the report, an estimated 393 million firearms are owned by civilians in America, but little is known about how many Americans actually follow the basic rules of gun safety and the implications for public health.

The full report, “Unlocked and Loaded: Guns in the Home and Safety Practices in America,” by the ECU Center for Survey Research can be found at

The report is part of the larger Life, Liberty and Happiness Project, a nationwide survey of more than 1,100 Americans conducted in May and June by the Center for Survey Research at ECU using mail, internet and phone surveys to reach adults across the country. Results are weighted to be representative of the U.S. population.

The project’s purpose is to highlight shared experiences among Americans as well as identify differences.

The initial report on the Life, Liberty, and Happiness survey, released in July, showed that a majority of Americans are satisfied with their lives, that only 23 percent trust the media, and that 1 in 10 adults live in a home with unsecured and loaded firearms. That report is available at

Note to Media: Photos, video and the report are available:

East Carolina University, or ECU as it’s best known, offers more than 84 bachelor’s, 71 master’s and 18 doctoral degrees to nearly 29,000 students on its Greenville, North Carolina, campus and through an acclaimed online learning program. The university’s school of medicine is recognized nationally for producing primary care physicians, cardiovascular research, advanced robotic surgery as well as obesity and diabetes breakthroughs. ECU also boasts the largest business school enrollment and largest number of new nurses and education professionals produced by a four-year North Carolina university, in addition to the largest studio art program in the state.

Located near Atlantic coast harbors where pirates once roamed, ECU adopted the “Pirates” mascot in 1934 for its athletics program and competes in NCAA Division 1. The university has a globally recognized academic underwater archaeology program and enjoys a supportive relationship with the U.S. military services.


ECU News Services
Jamie Smith, 252-328-6481

Source: East Carolina University