Conference Coverage

U.S. public largely ignores firearm access and suicide completion link


 

REPORTING FROM THE AAS ANNUAL CONFERENCE

– The evidence linking firearm access and suicide completion is largely ignored in current U.S. discussions on guns, Michael D. Anestis, PhD, said at the annual conference of the American Association of Suicidology.

“Only a tiny fraction of media discussions on gun deaths involve suicide. We must make a concerted and sustained effort to change this conversation,” said Dr. Anestis, a clinical psychologist at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg. When the relationship between firearms and suicide is discussed, it often is as a “footnote” and includes a lot of inaccurate information.

Dr. Michael D. Anestis is a clinical psychologist at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg Mitchel L. Zoler/MDedge News

Dr. Michael D. Anestis

“We should relentlessly promote the indisputable fact that firearm access dramatically increases the risk of death by suicide. Safe storage [of firearms] should be promoted within the context of this fact,” said Dr. Anestis, who recently published a book, Guns and Suicide: An American Epidemic (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018), on the links between the two. But he maintained that misinformation hides this relationship. “Many firearm owners do not believe firearms are related to suicide.”

Dr. Anestis reviewed results from a survey he and his associates ran in 2017 that documented these inaccurate beliefs regarding firearms and suicide. The researchers had 300 American adults who owned at least one firearm complete a questionnaire on their practices for firearm storage and their beliefs on the connections between firearm storage and suicide risk. The results showed a clear link between unsafe firearm storage and reduced belief of a link between firearm access and suicide risk (J Affect Disord. 2018 Feb;227:530-5). They also showed that fearlessness about death moderated the relationship: People with a higher level of fearlessness showed a tighter link between storage practices and beliefs about suicide risk.


During the conference, Dr. Anestis and his associates reported additional, as-yet unpublished findings that further detailed risks for suicide among gun owners. A survey of 100 adults from the Hattiesburg area showed that greater experience firing a gun linked with “factors thought to facilitate the transition from suicidal desire to suicidal behavior. We need to consider an individual’s experience and comfort with firearms, not just ownership and storage,” Dr. Anestis said.

Results from questionnaires given to 253 U.S. soldiers showed a link between accumulated combat experiences and an increased acquired capability for suicide. But additional research from his group showed that another route to acquiring “capability” for suicide, such as fearlessness of death, can occur through exposure to violent video games.

Dr. Anestis had no disclosures.

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