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JAMA Netw Open. 2019 Jun 5;2(6):e195383. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.5383.

Association of Firearm Ownership, Use, Accessibility, and Storage Practices With Suicide Risk Among US Army Soldiers.

Author information

1
Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress, Department of Psychiatry, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, Maryland.
2
Department of Psychology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
3
Department of Healthcare Policy, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts.

Abstract

Importance:

Since 2004, the suicide rate among US Army soldiers has exceeded the rate of death from combat injury. It is critical to establish factors that increase the risk of acting on suicidal thoughts to guide early intervention and suicide prevention.

Objective:

To assess whether firearm ownership, use, storage practices, and accessibility are associated with increased risk of suicide.

Design, Setting, and Participants:

In this case-control study, suicide cases (n = 135) were defined as US Army soldiers who died by suicide while on active duty between August 1, 2011, and November 1, 2013. Next-of-kin and Army supervisors of soldiers who died by suicide (n = 168) were compared with propensity-matched controls (n = 137); those soldiers with a suicidal ideation in the past year (n = 118) provided structured interview data. Data were analyzed from April 5, 2018, to April 2, 2019.

Main Outcomes and Measures:

Firearm ownership, storage, and accessibility were assessed by using items from the World Health Organization Composite International Diagnostic Interview screening scales along with items created for the purpose of the Army Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Servicemembers (Army STARRS) study.

Results:

Among the 135 suicide decedents, next-of-kin reported that they had greater accessibility to firearms compared with propensity-matched controls. Specifically, suicide decedents were more likely to own 1 or more handguns compared with propensity-matched controls (odds ratio [OR], 1.9; 95% CI, 1.0-3.7; χ21 = 4.2; false discovery rate [FDR] P = .08), store a loaded gun at home (OR, 4.1; 95% CI, 1.9-9.1; χ21 = 12.2; FDR P = .003), and publicly carry a gun when not required for military duty (OR, 3.2; 95% CI, 1.4-7.3; χ21 = 7.4; FDR P = .02). The combination of these 3 items was associated with a 3-fold increase in the odds of suicide death (OR, 3.4; 95% CI, 1.2-9.4; χ21 = 5.4; FDR P = .05). Storing a loaded gun with ammunition at home or publicly carrying a gun when not on duty was associated with a 4-fold increase in the odds of suicide death (OR, 3.9; 95% CI, 1.9-7.9; χ21 = 14.1; FDR P = .002).

Conclusions and Relevance:

In this study, in addition to gun ownership, ease and immediacy of firearm access were associated with increased suicide risk. Discussion with family members and supervisors about limiting firearm accessibility should be evaluated for potential intervention.

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