A Gun in the Home: The Role of Family Education in an Era of Gun Violence

Tami Moore, Ph.D., CFLE
/ CFLE Network, Fall 2018

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Tami Moore

Although the topic of school shootings and the safety of children in classrooms is worthy of all the attention it has garnered recently, there is another side to gun “violence” that gets much less scrutiny. Family-owned firearms are the implements used in both accidental and suicidal deaths by gun on a daily basis, resulting in family crisis, unresolved guilt and grief, and often the dissolution of families through divorce or separation.

According to an in-depth study of family gun ownership and family-member death by gunshot (Center for Injury Research and Prevention, 2018), 1.7 million children live in homes with unlocked, loaded guns. The report revealed that more than 75% of first and second graders knew where their parents keep firearms and 36% admitted handling the weapons and more than 80% of guns used by youth in suicide attempts were accessed in the home of the victim, relative, or friend. Availability of firearms in the home setting greatly increases the chance of teen suicide by gun (Witham, 1996).

Lewiecki and Miller (2013) presented the risks and benefits of gun availability in the household. Protection against home intruders and a deterrence of crime are two possible benefits. Another is connected to the sporting activities of lawful game hunting. Accidental or intentional injury or death to a family member or friend is the obvious risk. “The impulsivity of suicide provides opportunities to reduce the risk of suicide by restricting access to lethal means” (p. 27.)

While the arguments against increasing security measures targeted at gun ownership are grounded in the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, research supports a link between gun ownership rates and rates of gun mortality. Krug, Powell, and Dahlberg (1998) found that the United States had the highest overall gun mortality rate and the highest proportion of suicide by firearms among 36 wealthy global nations. In the United States in 2015, children under age 3 were involved in more than 50 shootings—by their own hand (Ingraham, 2015).

The statistics for adolescents and adults and suicide by gun are also sobering. Kellerman et al. (2018) found that most suicides by gun occur in the victim’s home. Homes where handguns and other firearms were not locked up and were kept loaded were more likely to be the scene of such deaths than were homes with secure storage in place. Few victims acquire the guns used in suicide within hours or days of their deaths. Those guns have usually been in the home for months or years.

Anglemyer, Horgath, and Rutherford (2014) found that, in addition to increasing the risk of suicide, having a gun in the home also increased the likelihood that household members would be the victims of a homicide—especially females. Their evidence also suggests that having a gun in the home increases the risk for others in the community of becoming victims of gun violence. Several school shooters acquired the firearms they used in their homes and from family members.

What can those in our profession do to address the threat of family-owned firearms to the safety of family members—children, adolescents, and adults? As Family Life Educators, we can increase the educational programming available to families about the issues and the actions they can take to secure firearms in their homes if they choose to exercise the right to possess them. We can also focus attention on the creation and delivery of programming to address the needs of bereaved family members when gun violence touches them. The grief—and often the guilt—from such deaths is unique and complex, requiring creative approaches to therapy. As policymakers, professionals can increase awareness about home-based threats inherent to gun ownership and storage, so lawmakers are more fully informed about the impact of gun availability to family safety, and protective agencies can better prepare those who work with grieving families.

Tami James Moore, Ph.D., CFLE, is the first author of Family Resource Management (3rd ed., Sage Publications, 2018) and Professor and Program Chair of Family Studies at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. As a family-business owner, she also serves as the President of the Kearney Area Builders Association and serves on the City of Kearney Planning Commission.



Anglemyer, A., Horgath, T. & Rutherford, G. (2014). The accessibility of firearms and risk for suicide and homicide victimization among household members: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Annals of Internal Medicine, 160, 101–110. http://annals.org/aim/fullarticle/1814426/accessibility-firearms-risk-suicide-homicide-victimization-among-household-members-systematic

Center for Injury Research and Prevention, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. (2018). Gun Violence: Facts and Statistics. Retrieved from https://injury.research.chop.edu/violence-prevention-initiative/types-violence-involving-youth/gun-violence/gun-violence-facts-and#.WykmUdJKjRY

Ingraham, C. (2015, October 15). People are getting shot by toddlers on a weekly basis this year. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/10/14/people-are-getti…

Kellerman, A. L., Rivara, F. P., Somes, G., Reay, D. T., Francisco, J., Banton, J. G., . . . Hackman, B. B. (1992). Suicide in the home in relation to gun ownership. New England Journal of Medicine, 327, 467–472.

Krug, E. G., Powell, K.C., & Dahlberg, L. L. (1998). Firearm-related deaths in the United States and 35 other high- and upper-middle-income countries. International Journal of epidemiology, 27, 214–221.

Lewiecki, E. M., & Miller, S. A. (2013). Suicide, guns, and public policy. American Journal of Public Health, 103, 27–31.

Ingraham, C. (2015, October 15). People are getting shot by toddlers on a weekly basis this year. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/10/14/people-are-getti…

Witham, H. (1996). Gun legislation could curb youth suicide. Australian Nursing Journal, 4, 11.