Background Though research has established that firearms in the home increase risk for injury and death, a substantial number of Americans, especially gun owners, believe that guns make their homes safer. More than half of gun owners in a nationally-representative survey said “it depends” when asked whether guns make their homes safer or more dangerous, but little is known about the factors that affect perceived safety. Objective To determine whether the relationship between the presence of firearms and perceived home or neighborhood safety is fixed or depends on additional factors and to identify the additional factors on which it depends. Methods A mixed-methods cross-sectional analysis of the 2018 state-representative California Safety and Wellbeing Survey (n = 2558, completion rate 49%), including calculation of weighted proportions and qualitative analysis of write-in responses. Findings One in six respondents (17.2%, 95% CI 14.9% to 19.7%) reported “it depends” when asked whether a gun in their home made the home a safer or more dangerous place to be (“the home scenario”). One in six (16.6%, 95% CI 14.3% to 19.2%) reported “it depends” when asked whether the neighborhood would be safer if all neighbors had guns in the home (“the neighborhood scenario”). For the home scenario, 28.3% (95% CI 21.9% to 35.7%) cited firearm owner characteristics (e.g., training and proficiency, temperament, and mental health), 28.4% (95% CI 22.3% to 35.5%) cited firearm storage and access, and 28.0% (95% CI 21.5% to 35.7%) cited intended use for guns as factors affecting perceived safety. For the neighborhood scenario, respondents overwhelmingly cited gun owner characteristics (72.1%, 95% CI 63.4% to 79.3%). Factors on which “it depends” varied by gun ownership status. Conclusion Perceived safety when firearms are in the home depends on numerous factors. Understanding these factors may inform tailored, targeted messaging and interventions for firearm injury prevention.
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