Background: Firearm ownership has often been used to measure access to weapons. However, persons who own a firearm may not have access to it and conversely, persons who do not own a firearm may be able to access one quickly.
Objectives: To examine whether using firearm ownership is a reasonable proxy for access by describing the demographic characteristics associated with ownership and access.
Methods: Data are from the 1994 Injury Control and Risk Survey, a national, random digit dial survey. Information about household firearm ownership and ready access to a loaded firearm were collected and weighted to provide national estimates. Adjusted odds ratios for three separate models were calculated using logistic regression.
Results: A total of 1353 (27.9%) respondents reported both having a firearm in the household and ready access to one. An additional 313 respondents (8.1%) reported having a firearm, but were not able to access these weapons. Another 421 respondents (7.2%) did not have a firearm in or around their home, yet reported being able to retrieve and fire one within 10 minutes. Based on the logistic regression findings, the demographic characteristics of this latter group are quite different from those who report ownership. Those who do not have a firearm, but report ready access to one, are more likely to be ethnic minorities, single, and living in attached homes.
Conclusions: Asking only about the presence of a firearm in a household may miss some respondents with ready access to a loaded firearm. More importantly, those who do not own a firearm, but report ready access to one, appear to be qualitatively different from those who report ownership. Caution should be exercised when using measures of ownership as a proxy for access.
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