Firearm-safety class rates in US little changed in 20 years

July 12, 2017

Only about three in five U.S. firearm owners have received any formal gun training, according to a new study from the University of Washington.

"This percentage has not changed much in 20 years, said Dr. Ali Rowhani-Rahbar, an associate professor of epidemiology at the UW School of Public Health, who led the study. "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.

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 safety strategies.

Suicide rates in the United States are on the rise, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Suicides account for two-thirds of all U.S. firearm deaths and up to 80 percent of firearm deaths in Washington state each year. The rate is especially high among middle-aged populations. Yet only 15 percent of the study participants who owned guns reported having received information about suicide prevention.

"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," 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."

Rowhani-Rahbar and UW Ph.D. student 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 largely unchanged since the 1994 surveys.

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.

When asked about the content of firearm trainings, survey participants commonly reported learning safe gun handling and storage, and accident prevention.

"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 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."

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.

Guns can be found in one-third of U.S. homes. When they are present in the household, researchers have found that the risk of firearm injury, intentional or not, increases for everyone in the household, especially when guns are not locked, unloaded, and stored in a safe place.

Other high-income nations, including Canada, Australia and Germany, have national standards that require safety training or an exam before one can legally purchase a gun.

The United States has no national standard or requirement for gun ownership, even though several surveys and national polls show that most U.S. citizens favor required formal firearm training to qualify for ownership.

"There exists a strong safety culture among firearm-advocacy groups around preventing the 500 unintentional firearm deaths that occur annually in the United States," said Rowhani-Rahbar. "We should strive to enhance that culture to also prevent the 22,000 firearm suicides that occur annually in the United States."
-end-
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.

University of Washington Health Sciences/UW Medicine

Related Public Health Articles from Brightsurf:

COVID-19 and the decolonization of Indigenous public health
Indigenous self-determination, leadership and knowledge have helped protect Indigenous communities in Canada during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, and these principles should be incorporated into public health in future, argue the authors of a commentary in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal) http://www.cmaj.ca/lookup/doi/10.1503/cmaj.200852.

Public health consequences of policing homelessness
In a new study examining homelessness, researchers find that policy such a lifestyle has massive public health implications, making sleeping on the street even MORE unhealthy.

Electronic health information exchange improves public health disease reporting
Disease tracking is an important area of focus for health departments in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pandemic likely to cause long-term health problems, Yale School of Public Health finds
The coronavirus pandemic's life-altering effects are likely to result in lasting physical and mental health consequences for many people--particularly those from vulnerable populations--a new study led by the Yale School of Public Health finds.

The Lancet Public Health: US modelling study estimates impact of school closures for COVID-19 on US health-care workforce and associated mortality
US policymakers considering physical distancing measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 face a difficult trade-off between closing schools to reduce transmission and new cases, and potential health-care worker absenteeism due to additional childcare needs that could ultimately increase mortality from COVID-19, according to new modelling research published in The Lancet Public Health journal.

The Lancet Public Health: Access to identification documents reflecting gender identity may improve trans mental health
Results from a survey of over 20,000 American trans adults suggest that having access to identification documents which reflect their identified gender helps to improve their mental health and may reduce suicidal thoughts, according to a study published in The Lancet Public Health journal.

The Lancet Public Health: Study estimates mental health impact of welfare reform, Universal Credit, in Great Britain
The 2013 Universal Credit welfare reform appears to have led to an increase in the prevalence of psychological distress among unemployed recipients, according to a nationally representative study following more than 52,000 working-age individuals from England, Wales, and Scotland over nine years between 2009-2018, published as part of an issue of The Lancet Public Health journal on income and health.

BU researchers: Pornography is not a 'public health crisis'
Researchers from the Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) have written an editorial in the American Journal of Public Health special February issue arguing against the claim that pornography is a public health crisis, and explaining why such a claim actually endangers the health of the public.

The Lancet Public Health: Ageism linked to poorer health in older people in England
Ageism may be linked with poorer health in older people in England, according to an observational study of over 7,500 people aged over 50 published in The Lancet Public Health journal.

Study: Public transportation use linked to better public health
Promoting robust public transportation systems may come with a bonus for public health -- lower obesity rates.

Read More: Public Health News and Public Health Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.