Objectives. We examined parents’ beliefs about how children would react to finding guns, with particular emphasis on how parents reasoned about children’s actions.

Methods. Based on a randomized telephone survey of Northeast Ohio residents, we focused on the 317 urban and 311 rural respondents who had children 5 to 15 years old in their homes. Respondents were asked about gun ownership and their expectations of how children would react to finding guns. Analysis examined responses in relation to various demographic and socioeconomic variables.

Results. All respondents—regardless of gun ownership, geography, race, gender, education level, income, or child age—were equally likely (∼87%) to believe that their children would not touch guns they found. Fifty-two percent of those reasoned that children were “too smart” or “knew better.” Only 40% based their predictions on specific instructions they had given their children. Only 12% (15/122) of owners stored guns locked and unloaded. Only 3 of 13 variables tested were positively associated with safe storage: having a child 5 to 9 years old, having at least a 4-year college education, and having an income ≥$65 000 per year.

Conclusion. Results indicate that parental beliefs may effectively relieve adults of responsibility and place the burden on children to protect themselves. The implication for injury prevention is that caregivers’ unrealistic expectations of children’s developmental levels and impulse control may influence storage decisions or the inclination to address gun safety issues with children or other adults with whom children spend time (relatives, playmates’ parents).

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