Police Often Have Unlocked Guns at Home, Raising Suicide Risk

By   |  October 30, 2023

By Cara Murez HealthDay Reporter  |  Copyright © 2023 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

MONDAY, Oct. 30, 2023 (HealthDay News) -- Many law enforcement officers own firearms but fail to store them properly, claims a study that points to an increased risk of suicide.

Police officers are also more likely to have suicidal thoughts, according to research from Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J.

“Historically, law enforcement officers have had higher rates of suicidal thoughts and behaviors,” said study first author Allison Bond, of the New Jersey Gun Violence Research Center at Rutgers.

“We found that not only are they experiencing high rates of suicidal thoughts, but those who have had suicidal thoughts are more likely to own firearms, and are often not engaging in secure storage,” Bond added in a Rutgers news release.

For the study, the researchers examined data from 369 law enforcement officers in the United States.

About 71% reported owning a firearm, including handguns (80%), shotguns (61%) and rifles (58%). Almost 8 in 10 own more than one type of firearm.

And those firearms are seldom stored safely. The most common type of secure storage methods used were gun safes (40%), followed by locking devices such as trigger or cable locks (31%).

Nearly 58% of officers surveyed said they had had suicidal thoughts at some time. Those officers were more likely to own firearms.

“This is concerning because access to a firearm increases the risk for several types of firearm-related injuries and death, including suicide; and this risk is even higher when a firearm is not stored securely," Bond said. "We need to work with law enforcement officers to determine ways to increase secure storage.”

Previous research has found high rates of suicidal thoughts and behaviors among police officers compared to the general population. A high percentage of their suicide deaths are caused by firearms.

“If law enforcement officers experiencing suicidal thoughts are more likely to have quick access to an unsecured firearm, there is a greater risk that, in their worst moment, they will reach for and use by far the most lethal method for suicide,” said senior study author Michael Anestis, executive director of the New Jersey Gun Violence Research Center.

“We do not always know when an officer is suffering with suicidal thoughts, so we need to work with that community to foster a general tendency to store firearms securely by default so that, if they one day find themselves thinking about suicide, it will be more difficult for them to make a deadly decision in response to those thoughts,” Anestis concluded.

The findings were published Oct. 24 in the journal Injury Prevention.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, reach out for help. Dial or text 988 or visit 988lifeline.org for free, confidential support.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on preventing suicide.

SOURCE: Rutgers University, news release, Oct. 25, 2023