To evaluate the effect of locking technologies on injury, a number of researchers have laid out conceptual models linking technology interventions to injury. These models suggest that the efficacy of personalization technology depends on the type and reliability of the technology, the extent to which these technologies are integrated into the stock of firearms, and the behavioral response of consumers and producers of firearms. Different sets of assumptions about the nature of these factors lead to different qualitative conclusions about the efficacy of safety technologies. Assuming they are unreliable, not widely used, or result in unintended behavioral responses, many conclude that locking devices may increase injury (see, for example, Violence Policy Center, 1998; Leonardatos et al., 2001). Others, under different sets of assumptions, conclude that these technologies may decrease crime and injury (see, for example, Cook and Leitzel, 2002; Teret and Culross, 2002). It is not known, however, which assumptions are correct. Thus, without credible empirical evidence, the realized effects of different safety technologies are impossible to assess.
In the absence of direct empirical evidence, a number of researchers have appealed to the lessons learned from other product safety innovations and legislation, especially automobile safety technologies. These analogies, however, ultimately do not answer the question at hand—namely, how firearms safety technologies impact injury. While a review of the product safety literature is beyond the scope of this report, it seems clear that (1) the efficacy of product safety innovations varies by product and (2) there are ongoing and controversial debates on the effects of some of the most well-known innovations, including seat belts. In fact, scientists have long warned that safety innovations can lead to offsetting behavioral responses. Auto safety innovations may lead to increased recklessness (Peltzman, 1975); child safety caps may lead to unsafe storage behaviors (Viscusi, 1984); and low-tar cigarettes may lead to increased smoking (Benowitz et al., 1983; Institute of Medicine, 2001). There is hardly consensus on the effects of product safety innovations on injury. Furthermore, in contrast to most other consumer products, firearms safety technology invariably reduces the effectiveness of the weapon. Firearms, after all, are designed to injure. Other safety devices do not generally impair the primary function of the product. Seatbelts, for example, do not reduce the effectiveness of automobiles, and safety caps do not reduce the effectiveness of medication.
Child access prevention (CAP) laws, sometimes referred to as “safe storage” or “gun owner responsibility” laws, make owners liable if a child uses an unlocked firearm. The first of these of laws was passed in Florida in 1989, and at least 17 other states and several cities have adopted similar