Member Research and Reports

Member Research and Reports

Washington: Three in Five Gun Owners Receive Firearm Trainings; Fewer Learn About Suicide Prevention

The United States does not have a national standard or requirement for firearm safety training prior to purchasing a gun, putting the responsibility on gun owners and those who live with them to find ways to learn firearm safety. Only about three in five firearm owners have received any formal gun training, according to a new study from the University of Washington School of Public Health.

[Photo: Dr. Ali Rowhani-Rahbar]

“This percentage has not changed much in 20 years, said lead author Dr. Ali Rowhani-Rahbar, an associate professor of epidemiology. “What’s more surprising is how the content of these trainings have not been adapted to talk about one of the greatest risks associated with owning a firearm or living in a gun-owning household—suicide.”

The results were published July 12 in the journal Injury Prevention.

Suicides account for two-thirds of all U.S. firearm deaths each year. Yet only 15 percent of the study participants who owned guns reported having received information about suicide prevention. Firearm-training classes, regardless of their setting – gun shops, hunting clubs, shooting ranges, etc. – can promote awareness about warning signs of suicide and encourage gun owners to keep firearms from at-risk individuals.

“There is very little research about the content of formal firearm-training programs, or even about the percentage of U.S. adults who have ever received formal firearm training,” Dr. Rowhani-Rahbar said. “Before our study, the most recent estimates of the proportion of adult firearm owners with formal firearm training in the United States came from surveys conducted in 1994.”

Dr. Rowhani-Rahbar and UW PhD student Ms. Vivian Lyons used data from a national online survey to generate up-to-date estimates about firearm training in the United States. Information from nearly 4,000 people indicated that only 61 percent of all gun owners and 14 percent of non-owners who live with a firearm owner have received any formal gun training, percentages that have not changed significantly since the 1994 survey.

When asked about the content of firearm trainings, survey participants commonly reported learning safe gun handling and storage and accident prevention. Among gun owners, more men (66 percent) than women (49 percent) reported having received formal training. Those who reported buying a gun for personal protection were less likely to have received training than those who owned a gun for hunting or sport.

“Our findings suggest that we could be doing a much better job with firearm trainings for all gun owners and non-owners who live with a gun owner,” said Dr. Rowhani-Rahbar. “The link between firearm access and suicide is strong and well-documented. Gun training provides a valuable opportunity to include educational messages about suicide prevention.”

Dr. Rowhani-Rahbar collaborated with colleagues at Harborview Injury Prevention & Research Center, the University of Colorado-Denver, Harvard University and Northeastern University. The study was funded by the Fund for a Safer Future and the Joyce Foundation.

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