Few U.S. gun owners get training that includes suicide prevention

Reuters Health - About 61 percent of firearm owners in the U.S. have received formal training in handling their guns, but only one in seven say it included prevention of suicide - the number one cause of gun deaths, according to a new study.

“Medical experts, public health professionals, and the majority of American people strongly support the importance of all aspects of firearm safety,” said lead author Dr. Ali Rowhani-Rahbar of the University of Washington School of Public Health in Seattle.

This was the first national study in two decades that assessed the scope of firearm training in the U.S., he told Reuters Health by email. “The percentage of gun owners with formal firearm training hasn’t meaningfully changed since then,” when it was 56 percent.

Rowhani-Rahbar and colleagues created a web-based survey that included questions about firearm ownership, storage, training and use. Nearly 4,000 adults answered the survey, which excluded people on active military duty.

The survey asked about details of training, including whether it included information on safe handling, safe storage and preventing firearm accidents, theft and suicide. It also asked about types of firearms owners had, political views, veteran status, and the presence of children in the home.

The research team found that one in four people who completed the survey and three in five firearm owners said they had received formal firearm training.

About 14 percent of non-owners living with a firearm owner and 13 percent of those not living with a firearm owner had received training.

Among gun owners, 66 percent of men and 49 percent of women had received training.

Those who owned more than one firearm, owned both hand guns and long guns, had a concealed carry permit, or who said they had carried a loaded gun in the past month were more likely to have had training.

Those who owned a firearm for protection only, versus for hunting or sport, were less likely to have formal training, according to the results in Injury Prevention.

Safe handling was the most common topic covered in training, with 61 percent of gun owners saying it had been included in their training. In contrast, suicide prevention was the least common topic - just 14 percent of gun owners said it had been part of their training.

“The low percentage of non-owners living in a gun-owning household who have received training is important due to the strong relationship between presence of guns in households and risk of firearm injury and death for all members of the household,” Rowhani-Rahbar said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, two-thirds of firearm deaths in the U.S. are suicides, the study team notes.

The low percentage of owners who have received training in suicide prevention is notable because there is a strong association between gun access and suicide, said Dr. Emmy Betz, an associate professor of emergency medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Aurora.

“How do we reach the people who own firearms?” she said in a phone interview. “How do we work together in ways that are respectful and collaborative to prevent unintentional and accidental shootings?”

Betz, who wasn’t involved in the study, coordinates gun safety nights tailored to specific groups. At Ladies Night at Centennial Gun Club in Centennial, Colorado, for example, women meet twice a month to practice shooting and discuss suicide prevention.

“Working in the emergency room, I see different gunshot wounds related to domestic violence, suicide and accidents,” she said. “It’s important to remember there are different kinds of firearm injuries and deaths.”

Ladies Night focuses on safe storage and teen suicide, for example, but other programs run by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the NH Firearm Safety Coalition target inner-city violence or middle-aged workers who are depressed and at risk for suicide.

“Every firearm death is tragic, and both firearm owners and non-owners should know about safe storage, self-protection and suicide,” Betz said. “As individuals in communities, we can work together on this and set aside the divisive national debate about firearms.”

SOURCE: Injury Prevention, online July 11, 2017.