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Friday, 31 March, 2000, 12:01 GMT 13:01 UK
Safety fears over children's gun access
Police SWAT team at Columbine High School
Police officers undergo specialist training to deal with school shooting incidents
More than a third of homes with children in the United States are said to have at least one firearm.

In nearly half of these, guns do not have trigger locks and are not even kept locked up, a survey suggests.

In nearly one in 10 homes, the firearms are kept loaded as well as unsecured.

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  • The authors of the study, carried out in the wake of the recent US school shootings which have stunned the nation, say it emphasises the need to impress upon adults the importance of keeping weapons away from children.

    The study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, was based on information gathered from more than 45,000 households.

    It was carried out by researchers at the University of California in Los Angeles, and the California-based think tank Rand Corp.

    The findings suggest that firearms are present in 35% of US homes with children.

    The study's authors say this figure represents more than 11 million homes, with more than 22 million children under the age of 18.

    'Promising signs'

    The 9% of homes where firearms are kept unlocked and loaded translates into homes with 1.7 million children, it says.

    Another 4% of the homes had guns stored unlocked with ammunition nearby.

    Just less than 40% of homes with firearms had them locked, unloaded and stored separately from ammunition.
    Columbine students mourning
    !2 students were shot dead at Columbine High School, Denver, last year
    The study's lead author, UCLA's Dr Mark Schuster, said that while school shootings made clear the need to limit children's access to firearms, there were promising signs that things were improving.

    Smith & Wesson, the nation's largest gun manufacturer, had agreed to provide external safety locks on all its handguns within 60 days, and internal locks within two years..

    "The fact that a least one major gun manufacturer is going to be building safer firearms is good news.," he said.

    "But it's still the responsibility of parents and other adults to keep firearms out of their children's hands."

    'Education and training'

    Michael Barnes, president of Handgun Control and the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence, said: "This study should open the eyes of every parent in America.

    "It┐s shocking to learn that so many children live in homes where guns are so easily available to them. Parents must also realise that, even if they don┐t own a gun, their children may be at risk when they visit other families┐ homes if there is a gun."

    National Rifle Association lobbyist James Baker said he was not surprised by the study.

    He cited National Safety Council data showing that gun accidents were at an all-time low.

    "We think education and training is the key to reducing figures," he said.

    "We don't believe new laws will impact what goes on in homes. Ultimately, families will decide what they feel is best for their particular circumstances."

  • More than 1,000 US police officers have now been trained in how to respond to school shooting incidents, at a specially-built mock high school.

    The 16-room school, called RU Ready High, in Moyock, North Carolina, opened last September

    Officers undergo simulations of school shooting incidents, with actors playing pupils.

    During the training, a mock gunman takes control of the school, and the officers have to get inside, lead frightened students to safety and open a safe path for paramedics before going after the gunman.

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    See also:

    17 Mar 00 | Americas
    Gun safety deal agreed
    11 Mar 00 | Americas
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    09 Mar 00 | Americas
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