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Firearm Storage Practices Among American Veterans

      Introduction

      Interventions that reduce access to highly lethal and commonly used methods of suicide (e.g., limiting firearm access) are considered essential elements of effective suicide prevention programs. Scant epidemiologic data are available to inform such efforts among Veterans. The aim of this study is to describe firearm storage practices and correlates of those practices among a nationally representative sample of U.S. Veteran firearm owners.

      Methods

      The authors used a probability-based online survey of Veteran firearm owners in 2015 (data analyzed in 2017; 54.6% response rate). The primary outcome was firearm storage practices. Additional items assessed individual and household-level sociodemographic characteristics, firearm-related characteristics, and risk perceptions related to firearm ownership.

      Results

      One in three (33.3%, 95% CI=28.6%, 38.4%) Veteran firearm owners stores at least one firearm loaded and unlocked. The prevalence of this practice ranges substantially (9%–65%) across individual, household, and firearm ownership characteristics, and is strongly related to other firearm-related behaviors (e.g., carrying handguns); reasons for firearm ownership (e.g., protection versus other); number of firearms owned; and perceptions about the utility of guns stored safely and whether guns make homes safer.

      Conclusions

      Storing a firearm loaded and unlocked is common among Veterans. Storage practices are strongly related to reasons for ownership and potentially malleable perceptions including beliefs about firearm-related risks. Suicide prevention initiatives among Veterans should incorporate communication strategies that address common misperceptions about household firearm risk and whether safe storage practices may better align with reasons most Veterans own firearms (i.e., safety)—especially when someone in their home is at increased risk for suicide.
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