PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — More than half of gun owners in the United States don’t safely store their guns, according to a report released today from public health experts.

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A national survey from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health says retired police officer John Imperato, who keeps his weapons and ammunition under lock and key, is in the minority when it comes to safekeeping of guns.

Health officials say the first step owners can take in preventing a gun tragedy from occurring is by properly storing their guns.

“Fifty-four percent of gun owners do not store all their guns locked away in a secure manner,” said Daniel Webster, director of Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research.

The survey defines safe storage as a locked gun safe, cabinet or case.

The study’s co-author Webster says self-defense is one reason why many owners don’t follow safe storage protocol.

“They want to be able to easily access a loaded gun that they can fire rather quickly,” he said.

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But research shows gun ownership actually elevates the risk for homicide in the home and increases the suicide risk.

“In the current context, we’re also concerned about teenagers taking guns from their home and carrying out acts of violence,” Webster said.

Experts and owners agree that safe storage helps prevent tragedy and theft.

“I used to be a firearms instructor so safety is the first thing,” Imperato said.

Researchers found taking a gun safety course also led to greater use of safe storage practices at home.

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The public health study found gun owners were 44 percent more likely to practice safe storage if there was a child under the age 18 in the home.

The survey, is believed to be the first nationally representative sample in 15 years to examine gun storage practices in the United States.

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