Firearm Ownership and Capability for Suicide in Post-Deployment National Guard Service Members

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OBJECTIVE: National Guard service members demonstrate increased suicide risk relative to the civilian population. One potential mechanism for this increased risk may be familiarity with and access to firearms following deployment. This study examined the association between firearm ownership, reasons for ownership, and firearm familiarity with a widely studied suicide risk factor-capability for suicide-among National Guard service members. METHOD: Data were drawn from a cross-sectional survey of National Guard service members conducted immediately post-deployment in 2010. Service members (n = 2,292) completed measures of firearm ownership, firearm familiarity, and capability for suicide. RESULTS: Firearm ownership and increased firearm familiarity were associated with capability for suicide (d = 0.47 and r = .25, for firearm ownership and familiarity, respectively). When examined separately based on reason for ownership, owning a firearm for self-protection (d = 0.33) or owning a military weapon (d = 0.27) remained significantly associated with capability for suicide. In contrast, owning a firearm for hobby purposes did not (d = -0.07). CONCLUSION: Our findings support theories emphasizing practical aspects of suicide (e.g., three-step theory) and suggest that owning firearms, in particular for self-protection, along with familiarity using firearms may be associated with greater capability for suicide.

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Suicide & life-threatening behavior

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