Publication Date: 
Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Problem: Firearms are the second leading cause of injury deaths in the United States accounting for 30,896 deaths and 71,417 injuries in 2006. CDC: WISQUARS.  Firearms are used in84 percent of the homicides of persons between the ages 10 and 24. CDC: Youth Violence Fact Sheet.

The Law: Child access prevention (CAP) laws are a relatively recent legislative intervention intended to prevent firearm injuries caused by children by limiting their access to firearms. CAP laws establish criminal penalties for owners who do not store their firearms appropriately (e.g., unloaded, in a locked compartment). It is a felony offense for an owner under some CAP laws if an injury results from a child accessing an unsecured gun. In 2008, 27 states and the District of Columbia had adopted CAP laws. Legal Community Against Violence: CAP Laws Brief. For examples of CAP laws, seeF.S. § 790.174(Florida), Texas Penal Code Annotated § 46.13(Texas) and CGS §29-37i(Connecticut). 

The Evidence: In a systematic review, Hahn et al. reviewed three studies that measured the impact of CAP laws on juvenile unintentional firearm-related deaths.  Hahn et al. Firearms laws and the reduction of violence: a systemic review. Am J Prev Med. 2005;28(2S1):40-71. One of the three studies examined the impact of CAP laws on firearm-related and non-firearm-related juvenile suicides and homicides. The second study evaluated the impact of CAP laws on overall violent outcomes (all homicide, aggravated assault, robbery, and rape) to test the hypothesis that CAP laws impede self-defense. The third study measured the impact of unintentional firearm-related deaths among juveniles under the age of 15 in states with felony CAP laws. The findings on juvenile homicide and violent outcomes were inconsistent and mostly lacked statistical significance. A few of the underlying studies found associations between CAP laws and juvenile violent outcomes in a few states. However, the reviewers did not view the available evidence as sufficient to establish the effectiveness of CAP laws as a public health intervention.    

The Bottom Line: Although CAP laws may represent a promising intervention for reducing gun-related morbidity and mortality among children, in the judgment of a Community Guide expert panel, there is currently insufficient evidence to validate their effectiveness as a public health intervention aimed at reducing gun-related harms.

Additional Information: A new firearms research database launched by the Harvard School of Public Health makes scholarly articles more accessible to reporters, law enforcement, public health officials, policymakers, and the general public. The Firearms Research Digest  provides summaries of articles gathered from social science, criminology, medical and public health journals and is written in clear, accessible language for use by those outside academia.

The website currently covers six years of research published between 2003 and 2008. The digest will be expanded over time to include articles from 1988 to the present.

Additional Resources: The Firearms Research Digest

Impact: Uncertain