Firearm-related experiences and perceptions among United States male veterans: A qualitative interview study

PLoS One. 2020 Mar 10;15(3):e0230135. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0230135. eCollection 2020.

Abstract

Background/objective: Male veterans ages 55-74 comprise a disproportionate number of suicide deaths among United States veterans, for whom a majority of suicides are firearm-related. Little is known about the firearm-related experiences and beliefs of veterans, which could be informative for firearm-related lethal means safety interventions. The aim of this qualitative study was to identify themes relevant to developing such interventions among older male veterans.

Methods: We conducted semi-structured qualitative interviews with seventeen United States male veterans, ages 50-70, who were eligible to receive Veterans Health Administration services, and were current or former firearm owners or users. Transcripts were analyzed via thematic analysis using an inductive approach.

Results: Six themes were identified: 1) Firearm experiences were usually facilitated by male family members and occurred at an early age; 2) Safety lessons during early firearm encounters focused on preventing unintentional injuries through safe firearm handling and using "common sense;" 3) Firearms serve an important social function across veterans' lifespans (e.g., hunting with friends); 4) Veterans perceive firearms as useful for protection; 5) Veterans believe that not everyone should have access to firearms, and some described scenarios in which they acted to limit others' access during unsafe situations; and 6) Veterans have preferences for who is involved in firearm safety discussions.

Conclusions: We identified themes relevant to developing firearm-specific lethal means safety interventions among older male veterans. Findings suggest potential obstacles (e.g., sociocultural value of firearms) to affecting changes in firearm behaviors, and factors that could potentially facilitate interventions (e.g., family involvement). Consideration of these findings may be important for developing personalized, effective interventions for this population.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Attitude
  • Firearms / ethics*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Qualitative Research
  • Safety
  • Suicide / prevention & control
  • Suicide / psychology*
  • United States
  • Veterans / psychology*
  • Wounds, Gunshot / prevention & control
  • Wounds, Gunshot / psychology

Grant support

No specific grant funded this work. This work was supported in part by in part by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA); the Rocky Mountain Mental Illness Research, Education and Clinical Center for Suicide Prevention; and the VA Office of Academic Affiliations, Advanced Fellowship Program in Mental Illness Research and Treatment. The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position or policy of the VA or the U.S. Government. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.