Child firearm access prevention laws

Child access prevention (CAP) laws impose penalties on adults who allow children unsupervised access to firearms or violate firearm storage requirements (e.g., storage with a locking device in place). Federal law does not regulate child access to firearms. Laws vary by state; some states impose criminal liability for adults who give children unsupervised access to firearms or provide a minor with a firearm, while others impose civil or criminal liability when firearms are stored improperly (GLC).

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Reduced suicide

  • Reduced unintentional injuries

  • Reduced unintentional deaths

Evidence of Effectiveness

There is some evidence that child access prevention (CAP) laws decrease firearm suicide (Santaella-Tenorio 2016*) and reduce unintentional firearm deaths and injuries among youth (Cummings 1997*, Hepburn 2006*, Webster 2000*). Additional evidence is needed to confirm effects.

Overall, CAP laws appear to reduce firearm suicide rates among youth under the age of 20 (Gius 2015*, Webster 2004*). Several studies suggest that state CAP laws reduce unintentional firearm deaths (Cummings 1997*, Hepburn 2006*) and injuries among youth (DeSimone 2013), especially laws with strict penalties (Webster 2000*). CAP laws may also increase school safety: in states with CAP laws, high school students are less likely to carry guns, be threatened or injured by a weapon, and miss school due to safety concerns than peers in states without CAP laws (Anderson 2016).

Some studies indicate that CAP laws have no impact, positive or negative, on unintentional deaths and injuries (Gius 2015*, Lott 2001*, Lee 2013*). Variability in outcomes may be due to inconsistency of implementation and enforcement in state laws (Hepburn 2006*); studies suggest greater effects with stronger laws (e.g., felony prosecution for violation) (DeSimone 2013, Hepburn 2006*, Webster 2000*).

Impact on Disparities

No impact on disparities likely

Implementation Examples

As of September 2016, 18 states mandate safe storage of firearms with child access prevention laws (AAP-Firearms). The definition of minor varies by state, ranging from under the age of 14 to under the age of 18 (GLC).

Most states prevent local governments from enacting gun laws via state preemption legislation (Grassroots Change); as of 2015, only seven states (California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York) allow local governments to enact gun laws, with exceptions for local laws relevant to minors in some states, for example, Maryland and Texas.

Implementation Resources

Everytown-Gun law navigator - Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund (Everytown). Gun law navigator.

RAND-Firearm law database - Cherney S, Morral AR, Schell TL. RAND state firearm law database. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation; 2018.

GLC - Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence (GLC). Save lives from gun violence.

JHCGPR - Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research (JHCGPR). Reducing gun-related injuries and deaths.

Firearms research - Firearms Research. Prevalence, patterns, and prevention of firearm violence.

US DOJ-ATF - US Department of Justice (US DOJ). Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).

Citations - Evidence

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

Santaella-Tenorio 2016* - Santaella-Tenorio J, Cerda M, Villaveces A, Galea S. What do we know about the association between firearm legislation and firearm-related injuries? Epidemiologic Reviews. 2016;38(1):140-157.

Cummings 1997* - Cummings P, Grossman DC, Rivara FP, Koepsell TD. State gun safe storage laws and child mortality due to firearms. JAMA. 1997;278(13):1084-1086.

Hepburn 2006* - Hepburn L, Azrael D, Miller M, Hemenway D. The effect of child access prevention laws on unintentional child firearm fatalities, 1979-2000. The Journal of Trauma: Injury, Infection, and Critical Care. 2006;61(2):423-428.

Webster 2000* - Webster DW, Starnes M. Reexamining the association between child access prevention gun laws and unintentional shooting deaths of children. Pediatrics. 2000;106(6):1466-1469.

Gius 2015* - Gius M. The impact of minimum age and child access prevention laws on firearm-related youth suicides and unintentional deaths. The Social Science Journal. 2015;52(2):168-175.

Webster 2004* - Webster DW, Vernick JS, Zeoli AM, Manganello JA. Association between youth-focused firearm laws and youth suicides. JAMA. 2004;292(5):594-601.

DeSimone 2013 - DeSimone J, Markowitz S, Xu J. Child access prevention laws and nonfatal gun injuries. Southern Economic Journal. 2013;80(1):5-25.

Anderson 2016 - Anderson DM, Sabia JJ. Child access prevention laws, youth gun carrying, and school shootings. Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) Discussion Paper Series. 2016;(9830).

Lott 2001* - Lott JR, Whitley JE. Safe storage gun laws: accidental deaths, suicides, and crime. Journal of Law and Economics. 2001;44(2):659-689.

Lee 2013* - Lee JL, Maciejewski ML, Raju SS, Shrank WH, Choudhry NK. Value-based insurance design: Quality improvement but no cost savings. Health Affairs. 2013;32(7):1251-7.

Citations - Implementation Examples

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

AAP-Firearms - American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). State advocacy focus: Safe storage of firearms. September 2016.

GLC - Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence (GLC). Save lives from gun violence.

Grassroots Change - Grassroots Change. Connecting for better health.

Date Last Updated