Rationale: The high prevalence of household firearms in the U.S. has ignited a growing body of research seeking to understand its health consequences. While a large number of studies examine the impact of firearm availability on health risks of gun owners in the household, relatively little attention is given to whether and how in-home firearm access may shape psychological outcomes among children of gun owners.
Objective: This study examined whether and how in-home firearm access is associated with adolescents' depressive symptoms. Given a strong social/cultural association between masculinity and gun possession as well as stark gender differences in perceptions of safety and attitudes toward firearms, this study also investigated whether this association differs for male and female adolescents.
Methods: Participants were drawn from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health) (n = 14,013). This study used random- and fixed-effects regression analyses as well as propensity-score matching models in order to reduce the chances of bias due to individual-level heterogeneity.
Results: The present study showed that gaining access to guns at home was significantly related to increased depressive symptoms among children of gun owners, even after accounting for both observed and unobserved individual characteristics. Both fixed-effects and propensity-score matching models yielded consistent results. In addition, the observed association between in-home firearm access and depression was more pronounced for female adolescents. Finally, this study found suggestive evidence that the perceptions of safety, especially about school (but not neighborhood), are an important mechanism linking in-home firearm access to adolescent depression.
Conclusion: As a substantial proportion of U.S. adolescents reported in-home firearm access, the findings of this study suggest that scholars and policymakers must seriously consider mental as well as physical health consequences related to household access to firearms among children of gun owners.
Keywords: Adolescents; Depression; Firearms; Guns; Mental health; Safety perceptions.
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