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Colorado study finds rural teens have easier access to guns, are more suicidal

High school students living in rural areas are more likely to report easy handgun access than their urban peers, and may be at increased risk for suicide as well, according to a study in Colorado. Photo by Brett_Hondow/Pixabay
High school students living in rural areas are more likely to report easy handgun access than their urban peers, and may be at increased risk for suicide as well, according to a study in Colorado. Photo by Brett_Hondow/Pixabay

Oct. 8 (UPI) -- Teens living in rural areas are about twice as likely to report having easy access to handguns compared with their urban-dwelling peers, according to a survey of high school students in Colorado published Friday by JAMA Network Open.

And, teens with easy access to handguns also were more likely to indicate that they had considered or attempted suicide in the past year, revealed the data, based on the survey of nearly 60,000 ninth- and 10th-graders in the state.

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Most teens who said they had easy access to firearms and had considered or attempted side attended schools in rural or remote areas, the researchers said.

"We found that access to firearms increased with increasing rurality," wrote the researchers.

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"Previous research has reported that firearms are the most lethal method for suicide attempts and increased access to firearms is associated with higher suicide fatality rates," they said.

Earlier research by the same team found that about 1 in 5 Colorado high school students has "easy" access to firearms.

Participants in that study were more likely to report easier access to a firearm if they reported feeling sad or hopeless for more than two continuous weeks, as well as if they had attempted suicide or been in a fight during the previous year.

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Meanwhile, another study published last fall found that increases in firearm suicides in Missouri were linked with more liberal gun laws in the state.

In addition, a report issued by the Centers Disease Control and Prevention in June found that emergency room visits among teens following suicide attempts had increased by 40% in 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic closed many schools across the country.

For this study, the University of Colorado researchers surveyed more than 59,500 9th- and 10th-grade students from 256 schools across the state.

RELATED Study: Rising firearm suicides in Missouri linked to more liberal gun laws

Just under 57% of the schools were situated in rural or remote areas, but nearly 58% of the participating students attended schools in urban regions.

About 36% of the students in rural schools reported having easy access to handguns, compared with 18% of those attending urban schools, the data showed.

Previous studies have found that gun ownership is more common among people living in rural areas, where hunting and other outdoor sports are popular activities.

Among rural students, 19% said they had considered suicide during the past year, while just over 9% indicated they had attempted suicide during that period.

For students in urban schools, these figures were 17% for considering suicide in the past year and just under 8% having attempted suicide, according to the researchers.

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There was a correlation between handgun access and thoughts of suicide or attempted suicide, with students indicating they had easier firearm access more likely to report suicidal thoughts, the data showed.

"In Colorado, rural and remote communities with high prevalence of easy handgun access and suicidality may benefit most from reducing access to lethal means when a young person is in crisis," the researchers wrote.

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