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U. researchers find cops with suicidal thoughts more likely to own firearms, improperly stored at home

A recent study researched gun ownership among law enforcement. – Photo by Fred Moon / Unsplash

On October 24, BMJ Journals published a study conducted by researchers at the New Jersey Gun Violence Research Center at Rutgers that examined the connection between firearm ownership and suicidal thoughts in law enforcement officials.

The study aimed to prevent suicides by understanding how law enforcement officers interact with guns and how they store their firearms.

Micheal Anestis, executive director of the New Jersey Gun Violence Research Center at Rutgers and one of the authors of the study, said researchers examined the connection between firearm ownership and suicide risk among law enforcement officers, particularly by looking at how they store their guns.

"70.5 percent of the law enforcement officers in our sample said they own a firearm … (and) despite the sort of omnipresence of firearms in the homes of law enforcement officers, secure storage is rarely used," Anestis said.

Allison Bond, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Psychology and the lead author of the study, said they defined secure firearm storage as the gun being locked in a safe and stored in a separate location from the gun's ammunition.

The combination of being allowed to hold firearms due to their profession, alongside their home storage for these firearms, poses a risk for these law enforcement officers, who have already been observed to have a higher suicide rate than most, she said.

Bond said prior research has found that homes with firearms inside increase the risk of suicide by three to five times for people in the house. Anestis said firearm access accounts for a majority of suicide deaths in the U.S.

"Firearms account for about 55 percent of all suicide deaths in the United States, and about 60 percent of all firearm deaths in the U.S. are suicide deaths," he said.

Bond said research has continued to show that weaponry is not causing people to be suicidal. Rather, having easy access to a gun makes it more likely for them to act on their suicidal thoughts.

Anestis said solving this issue is not about gun regulations but about community initiatives and an overall shift to emphasizing safe storage of firearms.

"This is more about communities investing in promoting the idea of secure storage and … this isn't so much about a policy to implement, as it is about a shift in social norms," he said.

Bond said researchers should also create conversations with gun owners about the importance of firearm safety and safe storage. In addition, police training, including methods of storing their firearms, could also improve conditions, she said.

"Build(ing) relationships with the law enforcement community is super important to help prevent firearm injury and death and especially suicide," Bond said.

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