Assessment of rural-urban and geospatial differences in perceived handgun access and reported suicidality among youth in Colorado

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Assessment of rural-urban and geospatial differences in perceived handgun access and reported suicidality among youth in Colorado

Category: Firearm Availability, Suicide, Youth|Journal: JAMA Network Open (full text)|Author: A Brooks-Russell, C Reid, E Wright-Kelly, K James, M Ma, T Spark|Year: 2021


Suicide is the second leading cause of death in adolescents, with firearms the most common method, especially in rural communities. Identifying where to target lethal means safety interventions could better leverage limited resources.



To understand the associations of rurality, school-level prevalence of easy handgun access, and suicidality measures in Colorado youth, to explore spatial distribution of school-level measures, and to identify communities with high prevalence of both easy handgun access and suicidality.


Design, Setting, and Participants

This cross-sectional study used data from the 2019 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, an anonymous cross-sectional school-based survey conducted at 256 participating Colorado high schools. Participants included students from schools recruited for statewide population-based estimates and additional schools opting in. Data were analyzed from November 9, 2020, to March 13, 2021.



Urban-centric locale according to a 7-level continuum. Geocoded location of schools was used for spatial analysis.


Main Outcomes and Measures

The main outcomes were weighted prevalence for easy handgun access and 4 measures of mental health and suicidality in the previous year (ie, feeling sad for 2 weeks and considering suicide, planning suicide attempt, or attempting suicide in the past year).



A total of 59 556 students (49.7% [95% CI, 49.3%-50.1%] male and 50.3% [95% CI, 49.9%-50.7%] female; 53.9% [95% CI, 53.5%-54.3%] in 9th and 10th grade; 36.4% [95% CI, 36.0%-36.8%] Hispanic and 50.8% [95% CI, 50.4%-51.2%] non-Hispanic White) from 256 schools participated. Most schools were rural or in small towns (56.8% [95% CI, 50.7%-62.9%]), while more students participated from urban and suburban schools (57.8% [95% CI, 57.6%-58.0%]). Prevalence of perceived easy access to handguns increased with increasing rurality, with 36.2% (95% CI, 35.2%-37.1%) of students in rural (remote) schools reporting easy access, compared with 18.2% (95% CI, 17.3%-19.1%) for city (large) schools. The spatial distribution of easy handgun access and suicidality measures had minimal overlap, but there was correlation at school-level between easy handgun access and considering suicide (ρ = 0.203 [95% CI, 0.0748-0.331]), planning suicide (ρ = 0.300 [95% CI, 0.173-0.427]), and attempting suicide (ρ = 0.218 [95% CI, 0.0869-0.350) in the previous year. The highest quartile for prevalence of both perceived easy access to handguns and planning suicide in the previous year included 21 schools (81.0% [95% CI, 64.0%-97.9%] rural [remote] or rural [distant]).


Conclusions and Relevance

These findings suggest that rural-remote communities in Colorado may benefit most from interventions focused on limiting youth access to handguns when youth are in crisis, with some communities at especially high risk. Spatially referenced data may improve targeting interventions to where they are needed most

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