"American veterans have a higher suicide risk than demographically
matched U.S. adults and most of their suicides are actually related
to firearm injury," said lead author Dr. Joseph Simonetti of the
Denver Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Colorado.
"On average, about 20 veterans die every day by suicide and about
two-thirds of those suicides are firearm-related," he told Reuters
Simonetti and colleagues surveyed a nationally representative sample
of firearm owners in 2015, including 1,044 who had served in the
About 45 percent of veterans said they owned firearms – and one in
three of those gun owners reported storing at least one weapon
loaded and unlocked.
Only about one in five gun-owning veterans kept all their guns
locked and unloaded.
Storing weapons loaded and unlocked was reported by 34 percent of
male veterans who own firearms and by 13 percent of female vets who
were gun owners, according to the study published in the American
Journal of Preventive Medicine.
Respondents' personal beliefs tended to influence their storage
decisions, the authors found. For example, storing a firearm loaded
and unlocked was more common among people who said guns were not
useful for protection if someone had to take the time to load or
unlock them. This group also felt having a gun at home increased
"One of the more interesting findings was that we asked veterans
whether or not they agreed having a firearm in the home increases
the risk of suicide for household members and only 6 percent agreed
that a firearm in the home was a suicide risk factor," Simonetti
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"But ... we also asked veteran firearm owners ... 'If somebody in
your household is at risk for suicide, what would you do?'
Eighty-two percent reported they would do something to limit firearm
access for that household member. In fact, 25 percent said they
would remove the gun from the home in that case."
The results "are confirming what I suspected would be the case,"
said Rajeev Ramchand, who studies firearm suicide prevention at
research firm RAND Corporation in Washington, DC. "It is now
incumbent upon us to develop communication campaigns and strategies
to help shift people's internal perceptions of risks."
"It's a really great study because it really gives us a target for
focusing on our suicide prevention campaigns," Ramchand, who was not
involved in the study, told Reuters Health.
The study was funded in part by the department of Veterans Affairs.
VA efforts to prevent suicide among former service members include
training health care providers to discuss firearm safety and
distributing firearm "cable locks," which can be attached to a gun
to block its barrel or the use of ammunition.
Gun control of any sort is a contentious topic in the U.S. But
Simonetti believes both sides of the debate are likely to support
safe storage practices.
"Nearly every gun advocacy organization out there including the NRA
actually does promote the idea that guns should be stored safely
when not in use," he said. "I (just) don't think most organizations
have outlined exactly what that means."
Ramchand is optimistic. "For so long we had a dearth of information
about firearm storage. So this was a really great study to help us
come up with data-driven policies and recommendations," he said.
SOURCE: http://bit.ly/2xiAiOH American Journal of Preventive
Medicine, online August 27, 2018.
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