A majority of Americans reported not believing that owning a firearm increases the risk for suicide, according to survey data published in Annals of Internal Medicine.
“In 2015, more than 44,000 persons in the United States died by suicide; one half of these persons used firearms,” Andrew Conner, BS, from the Harvard School of Public Health, and colleagues wrote. “Considering and addressing beliefs about the relationship between firearms and suicide in this country are likely to improve prevention strategies that aim to lower suicide rates by reducing ready access to firearms, such as those endorsed by several medical societies. However, the extent to which persons in the United States understand that household firearms increase the risk for suicide is unknown.”
Conner and colleagues investigated public opinion about the relationship between household firearms and risk for suicide using a nationally representative sample of 3,931 participants from an online survey administered by Growth for Knowledge in 2015. The researchers assessed participants’ responses to the statement, “Having a gun in the home increases the risk of suicide.” Participants were given response options, including “strongly agree,” “agree,” “neither,” “disagree” and “strongly disagree,” which were broadly categorized as agree, disagree or neither in the analysis.
The researchers evaluated other variables, such as sociodemographic characteristics, views on firearm-related issues, past firearm safety training, living in a home with firearms and personal firearm ownership. They also considered participants’ mental health condition diagnoses and occupation.
Overall, the belief that having a household firearm increases the risk for suicide was apparent in 15.4% (95% CI, 13.1-18.1) adults. Respondents who lived in a home without firearms were more likely to agree (19.8%) than firearm owners (6.3%) and those who do not own a firearm but live with someone who does (8.9%).
A total of 30.2% of health care practitioners — respondents who reported their occupation as “medical doctor,” such as a physician, surgeon, dentist or veterinarian or “other health care practitioner,” such as a nurse, pharmacist, chiropractor or dietician — agreed that the risk for suicide rises as a result of the presence of a firearm in the home, with approximately 12% of health care practitioners who own firearms agreeing. Less than 10% of firearm owners with children, as well as those who were trained in firearm use, believed that firearms in the home increase suicide risk.
“Our finding that most persons in the United States do not endorse the statement, ‘Having a gun in the home increases the risk of suicide,’ may reflect broad skepticism about the effectiveness of preventing suicide by reducing access to means of suicide with high case fatality rates (that is, those likely to prove lethal),” Conner and colleagues concluded.
They added, “Our findings suggest that medical and public health communities need to better educate at-risk patients and health care providers about how and why firearms increase the risk for suicide. Doing so will enable patients and their families to make more informed decisions about how to protect vulnerable members of their households. Health care providers can play an important role in communicating this message.” – by Alaina Tedesco
The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.