Gun owners care about safety as much as they did 20 years ago, study finds

A study published last week concluded gun owners care just as much about formal safety training as they did 20 years ago.

Six out of 10 gun owners report receiving formal firearm safety training, according to researchers at the University of Washington — a rate unchanged since the last study of its type conducted 23 years ago.

“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,” lead author Dr. Ali Rowhani-Rahbar, an associate professor of epidemiology at the UW School of Public Health, told News Beat last week. “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.”

Two decades later, manufacturing produces twice as many firearms and four times as many handguns each year for consumption. Conflicting reports abound about the rate of gun ownership in America, though the more prevalent narrative suggests gun owners are shrinking overall, with CBS News declaring the level hit an all-time low last year of just 36 percent. A Gallup poll placed the gun ownership rate at 39 percent that same year. A Washington Post blog from 2015 purports privately owned firearms more than doubled, from 185 million in 1993 to 357 million in 2013.

Rowhani-Rahbar and his team collected nearly 4,000 responses to an online survey for the study in 2015. Their findings were published July 11 in the journal Injury Prevention.

Respondents said training classes center around safe handling, storage and accident prevention. Only 14 percent of gun owners said instructors discussed suicide prevention — a troubling statistic for Rowhani-Rahbar and his team.

“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,” he said. “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.”

Suicide accounted for two-thirds of gun-related deaths in 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Federal data shows suicide rates, overall, have risen over the last 15 years, though firearm-related suicides have increased less than all other non-firearm methods.

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