Safely storing a firearm can lower suicide risk, but just 32 percent of military personnel lock up their firearms -- a number that mirrors the general society. File Photo by hareluya/Shutterstock.com
Aug. 16 (UPI) -- Studies show that safely storing firearms can reduce risk for suicide, and more than 60 percent of military members who die by suicide use a gun while at home -- but a new study suggests that most don't lock their guns up.
Only 32 percent of military personnel lock up their firearms up safely, according to a study published Friday JAMA Open Network. Even though keeping a gun stored unloaded and locked up in a closet or another safe location can reduce the risk of suicide.
"The percentage of military personnel who use unsafe storage practices mirrors what we see among gun owners in general," Craig Bryan, a researcher at University of Utah and study author, told UPI. "Because self-protection is a common reason for someone to keep a gun in their home, many believe that safe storage practices will interfere with their ability to protect their family."
After the researchers looked at ownership rates and storage habits for 1,652 active-duty military personnel, they found nearly 36 percent had firearms in their homes. They also found military members with a history of suicidal thoughts and behaviors were less likely to store their firearms safely.
In all, the Department of Defense reports the suicide rate for active military members in 2017 was nearly 22 deaths per 100,000. That year, firearms contributed to 202 of the 309 suicides among active-duty members.
In the United States, the suicide risk is six times higher in a household with a firearm.
But the problem of unsafe gun storing practices doesn't just have a direct effect on the owner. About 4.6 million kids live in a household with a loaded and unlocked firearm.
And past research has shown that as handgun ownership has become more common among families, deaths in children between ages 1 and 4 have doubled over the last 40 years.
"It's similar to wearing a seatbelt when driving: we don't know who is going to get into a traffic accident or when, so we wear a seatbelt all the time to protect us in the event of an unexpected collision," Bryan said. "Locking up our guns and storing them unloaded can work in the same way, providing us with some protection in the event of an unexpected crisis."