Public Opinion About the Relationship Between Firearm Availability and Suicide: Results From a National Survey

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Public Opinion About the Relationship Between Firearm Availability and Suicide: Results From a National Survey

Category: Firearm Availability, Suicide|Journal: Annals of Internal Medicine (full text)|Author: A Conner, D Azrael, M Miller|Year: 2017

Background: In 2015, more than 44 000 persons in the United States died by suicide; one half of these persons used firearms (1). 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 (2). However, the extent to which persons in the United States understand that household firearms increase the risk for suicide is unknown.

Objective: To use a nationally representative sample to describe public opinion about whether household firearms increase the risk for suicide.

Methods and Findings: We used data from a 2015 Web-based survey conducted by Growth for Knowledge (3). Our primary outcome was the proportion of respondents who agreed with the statement, “Having a gun in the home increases the risk of suicide.” Response options were “strongly agree,” “agree,” “neither,” “disagree,” and “strongly disagree” and were categorized for analysis as agree, disagree, or neither. Other variables assessed included sociodemographic characteristics, opinions about firearm-related issues, prior firearm safety training, living in a home with firearms, and personal firearm ownership. We examined 2 items routinely collected from panel members: whether they had ever been diagnosed with a mental health condition and their occupation. Those who reported their occupation as “medical doctor (i.e. physician, surgeon, dentist, veterinarian)” or “other healthcare practitioner (i.e. nurse, pharmacist, chiropractor, dietician)” were grouped together as health care practitioners.

Of the 7318 invited panel members, 3949 completed the survey (54.6% survey completion rate). Seventeen persons with missing responses to our key question about whether firearms increase suicide risk were excluded, resulting in a final sample of 3931 persons. A total of 15.4% (95% CI, 13.1% to 18.1%) of U.S. adults agreed that the presence of a firearm in the home increases the risk for suicide (6.3% [CI, 5.2% to 7.6%] of firearm owners, 8.9% [CI, 6.7% to 11.7%] of those who do not own a firearm but live with someone who does, and 19.8% [CI, 16.3% to 23.8%] of those who live in a home without firearms) (Table). Nearly 1 of 3 health care practitioners (30.2% [CI, 14.0% to 53.3%]) agreed that having a household firearm increases suicide risk; among health care practitioners who own firearms, 11.8% (CI, 4.5% to 27.3%) agreed with this statement. Fewer than 10% of gun owners with children (or gun owners who had received firearm training) agreed that household firearms increase suicide risk.

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