Deadly Experience: The Association Between Firing a Gun and Various Aspects of Suicide Risk

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Firearms account for half of all U.S. suicide deaths, but research on mechanisms through which firearms confer risk is limited. Although research has indicated firearm ownership and the unsafe storage of firearms are associated with an elevated risk of suicide, such research cannot provide insight into the extent to which a history of using a gun plays a role. We recruited a community sample (N = 100; 76% female; 44% Black) oversampled for prior suicidal behavior in a high gun ownership state (Mississippi). Consistent with hypotheses, a greater number of lifetime experiences of firing a gun were associated with elements of the capability for suicide (fearlessness about death, pain tolerance, pain persistence) and lifetime suicide attempts, but not with suicide ideation or simple pain detection. These findings indicate that guns may confer risk of suicide in part through increased comfort and aptitude with the weapon, a notion consistent with the construct of practical capability. Furthermore, these findings are consistent with research indicating that guns do not cause healthy individuals to become suicidal, but rather increase risk among already suicidal individuals. Overall, our findings highlight the importance of considering practical experience with guns as well as simple ownership and storage methods.

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