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1 in 4 Colorado teens can access a loaded gun within 24 hours, study finds

One in 4 teens said they could get and be ready to fire a loaded gun without a parent’s permission within 24 hours, according to a new study.
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One in 4 teens said they could get and be ready to fire a loaded gun without a parent’s permission within 24 hours, according to a new study.

In the wake of another deadly school shooting in Colorado, a new study shows that Colorado teens have easy access to firearms.

The study, published Monday in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, relied on data from the 2021 Healthy Kids Colorado Study. It surveyed teens and included the question, “How long would it take you to get and be ready to fire a loaded gun without a parent’s permission?”

One in 4 teens said they could do so within 24 hours. One in 10 said it would take them less than 10 minutes.

The study also found that nearly 40% of teens in rural areas reported having access to firearms, compared to nearly 30% of urban residents.

“How quickly someone can access a firearm matters,” said Ginny McCarthy, the lead author on the study and a doctoral candidate at the Colorado School of Public Health. “Previous studies have examined [that] among individuals who have attempted suicide, the time they would report between that time of suicidal ideation or extreme emotional distress and action usually endures less than 10 minutes.”

In terms of demographics, the study highlighted that suicide rates among Black and American Indian/Alaska Native youths aged 10 to 18 years are rising nationally.

“When we looked at the data from these questions, what teens are reporting is consistent with this rise in rates of suicide,” McCarthy said.

McCarthy said every family should have an individualized safety plan. She believes such conversations can help with awareness.

“The main takeaway is not that people should not own guns,” she said. “It's the unawareness of access to guns, particularly if there's a youth or adolescent or any family member who is at risk – for mental health reasons or otherwise – to understand that even accidental shootings can be prevented through secure storage.

“I think also understanding that if we have this conversation with teens, they may be more likely to come to us or to another adult figure in their lives if they are experiencing some kind of emotional distress.”

As of 2021, Colorado, Montana, Nevada and Utah had laws designed to prevent children from accessing firearms while Colorado was the only state in the Mountain West with a safe storage or gun lock requirement. This month, New Mexico passed a safe storage law that will go into effect in June.

The Colorado Firearm Safety Coalition has a gun storage map where people can find safe spaces to store their guns outside the home.

As of 2020, firearms were the number one cause of death for children in the United States, surpassing car crashes.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

I'm the General Assignment Reporter and Back-Up Host for KUNC, here to keep you up-to-date on news in Northern Colorado — whether I'm out in the field or sitting in the host chair. From city climate policies, to businesses closing, to the creativity of Indigenous people, I'll research what is happening in your backyard and share those stories with you as you go about your day.
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