For the first time in more than two decades, a new study has examined how many US gun owners practice safe weapons storage - and the results are seriously worrying.
Of the 1,444 gun owners surveyed, a terrifying 54 percent said they have at least one firearm without any locks or any other safety measures to keep them from falling into the wrong hands.
In the US, there are about 5.5 million households with at least one firearm that could potentially be stolen or played with by a child.
While it's true some of these firearms are safely stored away, a scary percentage are not. As a consequence, about 500,000 firearms are stolen each year, many of which are used to commit crimes.
For instance, in a 2008 analysis of gun-related crimes in Pittsburgh, it was found that 79 percent of the crimes were carried out with a firearm not legally owned by the perpetrator.
Unfortunately, there's no federal equivalent for this study, but if Pittsburgh is representative of the entire nation, gun theft would have contributed to nearly 9,000 gun-related killings across the US in 2015, as well as many more assaults, rapes and robberies.
The accessibility of firearms is especially worrying when guns fall into the hands of innocent children. For instance, it's estimated that about 78 children and adolescents die each year from unintentionally setting off a firearm, and many of these cases involve loaded, unsecured guns at home.
Still, not all of these traumatic instances are unintentional. A 2005 study found 82 percent of firearm suicides among youths used a firearm belonging to a family member, and usually that of a parent.
"Gun owners care about protecting their family, and many keep guns at home unlocked for ready access," Cathy Barber, who helps direct a suicide prevention effort at Harvard School of Public Health, told the LA Times.
"What many don't realize is that, unless they're a drug dealer or criminally involved, the odds that they're going to be killed in a homicide — especially by a stranger — are tiny."
While it's true the new research did find safe storage was more commonly practiced among gun owners with children, 45 percent of gun-owning parents said they still keep at least one unsecured firearm and 10 percent said they store all their guns in unlocked locations without trigger locks.
In another study published this week, it was found that 42 percent of parents with children who suffer from mental health conditions are gun owners, yet only 35% of gun-owning parents who live with mentally ill children keep their weapons unloaded and locked away.
The results are seriously worrying. Under US federal law, it is illegal for any importer, manufacturer or dealer to sell or transfer any handgun unless they provide secure gun storage or a safety device.
Other than that, however, there are no current federal standards for locking up firearms. In fact, Massachusetts is the only state that generally requires all firearms be stored with a lock in place.
The new research comes shortly after a mass shooting claimed the lives of 14 students and three school officials in Parkland, Florida.
The researchers hope that their new study will help spread the word on matters of gun safety to prevent more innocent deaths.
The study was published in the American Journal of Public Health.