August 22, 2019
1 min read

Military personnel with suicidal thoughts less likely to store firearm safely

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Craig Bryan
Craig Bryan

Active-duty military personnel with suicidal thoughts who reported having a firearm at home were less likely than nonsuicidal service members to store the firearm safely, according to a cross-section study published in JAMA Network Open.

“More than 60% of US military suicides occur at home and involve a firearm. Nearly all military firearm suicides (95%) involve a personally owned firearm,” Craig J. Bryan, PsyD, ABPP, of University of Utah’s National Center for Veterans Studies, and colleagues wrote. “Because attempts using firearms have very high fatality rates, safe firearm storage practices could be an important component of comprehensive suicide prevention in the military.”

Bryan and colleagues investigated firearm storage practices among 1,652 active-duty, U.S. military

personnel enrolled in the Primary Care Screening Methods (PRISM) study. They asked participants about firearm ownership and storage practices using the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System; lifetime history of suicidal ideation and attempts using the Self-injurious Thoughts and Behaviors Interview; and thoughts of death or self-harm during the previous 2 weeks using the Patient Health Questionnaire 9.

In total, 590 service members (35.7%) reported having a firearm in or around their home. Of these, 32.2% of participants reported their firearms were safely stored (ie, unloaded and locked up); 21% reported they were loaded and unlocked; 15.3% indicated they were locked up, but loaded; and 10.2% indicated they were unloaded, but not locked up.

Although the researchers reported that military personnel with thoughts of death or self-harm were less likely to have a firearm at home (OR = 0.61; 95% CI, 0.4-0.95), among participants with a firearm at home, safe storage was less common among those with a lifetime history of suicide ideation (OR = 0.47; 95% CI, 0.29-0.78) or recent thoughts about death or self-harm (OR = 0.26; 95% CI, 0.09-0.79).

“This highlights the importance of emphasizing safe storage of personally owned firearms, including temporary removal of access to firearms for high-risk personnel,” Bryan and colleagues wrote. “Further research focused on firearm availability and storage practices among military personnel is warranted.” – by Savannah Demko

Disclosures: Bryan reports grants from the Department of Defense and personal fees from Neurostat Analytical Solutions and Oui Therapeutics. Please see the study for all other authors’ relevant financial disclosures.