The vast majority of Americans do not believe that owning a gun increases the risk of suicide, even though it does, according to researchers from Harvard and Northeastern universities.
Only 15.4 percent of people agreed that “having a gun in your home increases the risk for suicide,” the researchers found in a national survey of nearly 4,000 people released Tuesday.
Less than 10 percent of gun owners with children agreed with the statement, according to the researchers who published their brief research report in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
The lack of concern about guns comes despite the “well-established” fact that a gun in the home increases the risk of suicide, said study coauthor Dr. Matthew Miller, a Northeastern professor who is also codirector of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center.
“What’s new is that so many people don’t understand that,” he said.
In 2015, more than 44,000 people committed suicide. Half of them used guns, researchers found.
“Too many persons in the United States do not understand the empirical reality that a gun in the home substantially increases the risk for suicide,” said the study, whose lead author was Andrew Conner.
The study also found that only about 30 percent of health care practitioners agreed that having a gun increased suicide risk.
The study suggested that medical and public health professionals needed to better educate patients and health care providers about how guns increase the risk for suicide.
“Doing so will enable patients and their families to make more informed decisions about how to protect vulnerable members of their households. Health care providers can play an important role in communicating this message,” the study said.
The study’s authors also had this advice for the public:
“If you know someone who is struggling with mental illness, having problems with alcohol or substance use, is deeply distressed over a breakup, [has had] a loss, or is just down on their luck, make sure that they do not have ready access to firearms, at least until the crisis passes,” they said in a statement.
Martin Finucane can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.