Child firearm access prevention laws

Evidence Rating  
Scientifically Supported
Evidence rating: Scientifically Supported

Strategies with this rating are most likely to make a difference. These strategies have been tested in many robust studies with consistently positive results.

Health Factors  
Decision Makers

Child access prevention (CAP) laws impose penalties on adults who allow children unsupervised access to firearms. Federal law does not regulate child access to firearms and laws vary by state. There are broadly two types of CAP laws that vary by strictness level. The relatively weaker form of laws, called recklessness laws, impose criminal liability for adults when a child injures another person only if someone intentionally or recklessly provides the firearm to the child. The stricter form of CAP laws, called negligence laws, impose civil and criminal liability on adults who allow a child access to and/or use of an improperly stored firearm1, 2. In 2020, firearms became the leading cause of death for children under the age of 18. Each year, more than 1,800 children die from firearm-related violence, including firearm suicide and homicide, and domestic violence shootings3.

What could this strategy improve?

Expected Benefits

Our evidence rating is based on the likelihood of achieving these outcomes:

  • Reduced suicide

  • Reduced unintentional deaths

Potential Benefits

Our evidence rating is not based on these outcomes, but these benefits may also be possible:

  • Reduced unintentional injuries

What does the research say about effectiveness? This strategy is rated scientifically supported.

There is strong evidence that stricter child access prevention (CAP) laws decrease firearm suicide2, 4, 5, 6, 7 and reduce firearm deaths among youth2, 7, 8.

Stricter CAP laws, which are negligence storage laws, can reduce firearm suicide rates among youth under the age of 202, 4, 5, 6, 9, 10. States with stricter CAP laws that impose civil and criminal liability for a child’s firearm access regardless of intentionality or negligence are associated with decreased firearm suicide for male youth under the age of 20 compared to states with weaker CAP laws5. Stricter CAP laws can reduce firearm-related juvenile homicides2, with greater reduction among white youth than non-white youth8. Such laws can also reduce unintentional firearm deaths among youth2, 11, 12, especially laws with strict penalties13. A modeling estimation suggests that CAP laws can decrease firearm-related mortality rates, including both firearm suicides and homicides for all ages, by 11% six years after implementation14.

CAP laws may also reduce unintentional firearm injuries among youth15, 16, 17. Specifically, states with stricter CAP laws are associated with reduced firearm injuries in youth7, 18, 19 and states with weaker laws appear to be associated with an increased risk of firearm injuries19.

CAP laws may also increase school safety. High school students under the age of 18 living in states with CAP laws, specifically laws regarding negligent storage, 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 laws20. Such CAP laws appear to have no impact on gun carrying behavior among 18- or 19-year-old students or school-shooting deaths20.

Some studies indicate that CAP laws have no impact, positive or negative, on suicide by firearm, and unintentional deaths and injuries caused by firearms9, 21, 22. Variability in outcomes may be due to the different strictness levels of state CAP laws and inconsistency of implementation and enforcement of these laws5, 12. A national survey of adult gun owners indicates low levels of awareness and compliance of locking firearms, even for residents in the states with stricter CAP laws23. Experts recommend strong CAP laws, strict enforcement, and counseling children and families about gun safety to prevent firearm death and injury among children24, 25.

How could this strategy advance health equity? This strategy is rated inconclusive impact on disparities.

It is unclear what impact child firearm access prevention (CAP) laws may have on disparities in child suicide and deaths. From 2010-2020, American Indian and Alaska Native youth ages 10-24 had the highest average rates in both firearm-related suicide and unintentional firearm fatalities, followed by white and Black youth29. Most of the unintentional firearm deaths in young children happened in the home, mostly self-inflicted or by other minors30. Male youth are four times more likely to die due to firearms than female youth31. There are few studies on effects of CAP laws on youth with different demographics: A study found that strict CAP laws may have stronger effects for white youth than non-white peers in reducing firearm-related homicides committed by youth8. Another study reported that strict CAP laws may be effective to reduce firearm suicide for male youth but have no impact on females5.

What is the relevant historical background?

A European colony passed the first gun control policy in 1619 which banned selling or giving firearms to Native Americans. The policy was controversial because firearm trading was profitable and Native Americans were sometimes allied against colonial adversaries32. When the U.S. Constitution was amended in 1789, the second amendment was added, stating that “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed33.” The interpretation of the second amendment has shaped firearm regulation since it was enacted. Through the early 1930s, there were wide variations in state gun laws: major types of state gun policies addressed hunting, militia, and gun carrying restrictions, with less attention to firearm sale bans32. The National Firearms Act was passed in 1934 to control firearm transactions and possession of unregistered firearms with the recognition of increased crime and concerns about public safety34. Since then, federal firearm legislation has moved forward in regulating firearm owners and dealers, but there have been gaps in gun laws. For example, the Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA) created a federal firearm licensing system for dealers and prohibited firearm sales and possession for felons and other unlawful individuals, but some restrictions were removed by the Firearm Owners’ Protection Act of 198634, 35. The Brady Bill in 1993 established a background check system for gun purchases36, but there are still loopholes that allow prohibited purchasers to have access to firearms37, 38. Gun rights advocacy groups, such as the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), have been successful at lobbying against regulations of firearms and encouraging states to pass preemption laws that prevent local governments from implementing local gun control policies36, 39.

In 2020, firearms were responsible for more than 45,000 deaths and firearm-related injuries were one of the 5 leading causes of death among people under the age of 45 in the United States40. Although the health impacts of firearms are well documented, Congress prohibited federal research dollars from being used to research gun violence and injury prevention from 1996-202041.

Equity Considerations
  • Which children are exposed to firearms in your community? How can CAP laws help increase their safety?
  • What resources are needed to strictly enforce existing child firearm access prevention laws?
  • How can your community raise gun safety awareness among families with children? Who can help deliver the communication directly to families with children through diverse channels (e.g., in person, online, mail, radio, etc.)?
  • How do preemption laws impact your ability to implement CAP laws?
Implementation Examples

As of January 2020, 29 states and Washington, D.C. have child firearm access prevention (CAP) laws: fifteen states and Washington, D.C. have stricter CAP laws concerning a child’s access to and/or use of firearms due to negligent storage, and fourteen states have weaker CAP laws that impose criminal liability for intentional or reckless provision of firearms to children1. The definition of minor varies by state, ranging from under the age of 14 to under the age of 1826.

Most states prevent local governments from enacting gun laws via state preemption legislation27; as of January 2022, only eight states (California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Nebraska, 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 Texas28.

Implementation Resources

Resources with a focus on equity.

Everytown-State gun law strength - Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund (Everytown). 2022 Everytown gun law rankings.

RAND-Firearm law database - Cherney S, Morral AR, Schell TL, Smucker S, Hoch E. RAND state firearm law database. Santa Monica: RAND Corporation; 2022.

GLC-Child access - Giffords Law Center (GLC). Child access prevention & safe storage.

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

Footnotes

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

1 RAND-CAP - RAND Corporation. The effects of child-access prevention (CAP) Laws. 2020.

2 Azad 2020 - Azad HA, Monuteaux MC, Rees CA, et al. Child access prevention firearm laws and firearm fatalities among children aged 0 to 14 years, 1991-2016. JAMA Pediatrics. 2020;174(5):463-469.

3 GLC-Kids and guns - Giffords Law Center (GLC). Kids & Guns.

4 Kivisto 2021 - Kivisto AJ, Kivisto KL, Gurnell E, Phalen P, Ray B. Adolescent suicide, household firearm ownership, and the effects of child access prevention laws. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. 2021;60(9):1096-1104.

5 Kappelman 2021 - Kappelman J, Fording RC. The effect of state gun laws on youth suicide by firearm: 1981–2017. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior. 2021;51(2):368-377.

6 Madhavan 2019 - Madhavan S, Taylor JS, Chandler JM, Staudenmayer KL, Chao SD. Firearm legislation stringency and firearm-related fatalities among children in the US. Journal of the American College of Surgeons. 2019;229(2):150-157.

7 Zeoli 2019 - Zeoli AM, Goldstick J, Mauri A, et al. The association of firearm laws with firearm outcomes among children and adolescents: A scoping review. Journal of Behavioral Medicine. 2019;42(4):741-762.

8 Anderson 2021 - Mark Anderson D, Sabia JJ, Tekin E. Child access prevention laws and juvenile firearm-related homicides. Journal of Urban Economics. 2021;126:103387.

9 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.

10 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.

11 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.

12 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.

13 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.

14 Schell 2020 - Schell TL, Cefalu M, Griffin BA, Smart R, Morral AR. Changes in firearm mortality following the implementation of state laws regulating firearm access and use. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 2020;117(26):14906-14910.

15 Simonetti 2015 - Simonetti JA, Rowhani-Rahbar A, Mills B, Young B, Rivara FP. State firearm legislation and nonfatal firearm injuries. American Journal of Public Health. 2015;105(8):1703-1709.

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

17 Lee 2013a - Lee J, Moriarty KP, Tashjian DB, et al. Guns and states: pediatric firearm injury. Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery. 2013;75(1):50-53.

18 James 2021 - James B, Khallouq B Ben, Swana H. Child access prevention legislative language and pediatric firearm injury rates. World Journal of Pediatric Surgery. 2021;4:e000223.

19 Hamilton 2018 - Hamilton EC, Miller CC, Cox CS, Lally KP, Austin MT. Variability of child access prevention laws and pediatric firearm injuries. Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery. 2018;84(4):613-619.

20 Anderson 2018c - Anderson DM, Sabia JJ. Child-access-prevention laws, youths’ gun carrying, and school shootings. Journal of Law and Economics. 2018;61(3):489-524.

21 Gius 2020 - Gius M. Examining the impact of child access prevention laws on youth firearm suicides using the synthetic control method. International Review of Law and Economics. 2020;63:105914.

22 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.

23 Miller 2022 - Miller M, Zhang W, Rowhani-Rahbar A, Azrael D. Child access prevention laws and firearm storage: Results from a national survey. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2022;62(3):333-340.

24 AAFP 2018 - American Academic of Family Physicians (AAFP). Gun Violence, prevention of (position paper). 2018.

25 Petty 2019 - Petty JK, Henry MC, Nance ML, Ford HR. Firearm injuries and children: Position statement of the American Pediatric Surgical Association. Journal of Pediatric Surgery. 2019;54(7):1269-1276.

26 GLC-Child access - Giffords Law Center (GLC). Child access prevention & safe storage.

27 Grassroots Change - Grassroots Change: Connecting for better health. Preemption Watch.

28 GLC-Preemption - Giffords Law Center (GLC). Preemption of local laws.

29 Lee 2022 - Lee LK, Fleegler EW, Goyal MK, Fraser Doh K, Laraque-Arena D, Hoffman BD, The Council on Injury, Violence, and Poison Prevention. Firearm-related injuries and deaths in children and youth. Pediatrics. 2022;150(6): e2022060071.

30 Hemenway 2015 - Hemenway D, Solnick SJ. Children and unintentional firearm death. Injury Epidemiology. 2015;2(1):26.

31 KFF-Panchal 2022 - Panchal N. The impact of gun violence on children and adolescents. San Francisco: Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF); 2022.

32 Spitzer 2017 - Spitzer R. Gun law history in the United States and second amendment rights. Law and Contemporary Problems. 2017;80(2):55-83.

33 CONAN-Second Amendment - The Constitution Annotated (CONAN). Second Amendment: Right to bear arms.

34 ATF-NFA - Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). National Firearms Act (NFA).

35 US DOJ-Gun violence 2001 - US Department of Justice (US DOJ). Gun violence reduction: National integrated firearms violence reduction strategy. Appendix C. History of federal firearms laws in the United States. 2001.

36 GLC-Gun lobby - Giffords Law Center (GLC). The gun lobby.

37 Everytown-Loopholes - Everytown. Undeniable: How long-standing loopholes in the background check system have been exacerbated by COVID-19. 2021.

38 CAP-Parsons 2020 - Parsons C, Bhatia R. Dangerous gaps in gun laws exposed by the coronavirus gun sale surge. Washington, DC: Center for American Progress (CAP); 2020.

39 Montez 2020 - Montez JK. US state polarization, policymaking power, and population health. Milbank Quarterly. 2020;98(4):1033-1052.

40 CDC-Firearm - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Fast facts: Firearm violence prevention. 2022.

41 APA-Weir 2021 - Weir K. A thaw in the freeze on federal funding for gun violence and injury prevention research. American Psychological Association (APA). 2021.

Date Last Updated