Managing suicide risk in late life: access to firearms as a public health risk

Am J Geriatr Psychiatry. Jan-Feb 2004;12(1):30-6.


Objective: The authors assessed the prevalence of gun availability for elderly patients to determine whether gun availability is related to the presence of suicidal or depressive symptoms.

Methods: This is a cross-sectional epidemiologic survey of firearm availability and safety practices. A random sample of older adults with a scheduled primary-care clinic appointment was selected and screened with the General Health Questionnaire and questions about suicidality and alcohol use. Participants were also asked about the availability of firearms in their home and about safe gun practices.

Results: Of 1,023 patients screened, 285 (27.9%) reported having some type of firearm in the home, and 202 (19.7%) reported having a handgun in the home. Patients with suicidal ideation or high levels of depression or psychological distress were not significantly more or less likely to have a gun in the home than those without these emotional stressors. The strongest predictors of firearm availability were being male and being married.

Conclusions: These preliminary data suggest that a significant proportion of elderly people have firearms available to them in their homes. Those patients with emotional distress did not differ from those without distress with respect to having firearms available to them. These data strongly suggest the need for screening for firearm availability and education about the safe storage of firearms as a potential means of prevention of suicide among elderly patients suffering from emotional distress or suicidal ideation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Firearms*
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Public Health*
  • Risk Factors
  • Suicide / prevention & control*
  • Suicide / statistics & numerical data*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires