"Feel the need to prepare for Armageddon even though I do not believe it will happen": Women Veterans' Firearm Beliefs and Behaviors during the COVID-19 Pandemic, Associations with Military Sexual Assault and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms

PLoS One. 2023 Feb 10;18(2):e0280431. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0280431. eCollection 2023.


Aims: Firearm purchasing increased within the U.S. during the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic. While rates of firearm ownership and suicide are elevated among women Veterans compared to women non-Veterans, no studies have examined if and how firearm beliefs and behaviors changed among women Veterans during the pandemic. We examined women Veterans' changes in firearm beliefs and engagement in firearm behaviors during the early pandemic era.

Method: 3,000 post-9/11 era women Veterans were invited to participate in a survey. 501 respondents (May-December 2020) comprised the sample for this concurrent nested mixed-method analysis. Thematic analysis and log-binomial regression were used.

Results: 13.88% (n = 69) of women Veterans in our sample reported changes in their firearm beliefs; 22.15% (n = 109) reported engaging in firearm behaviors. The most prevalent reported behaviors were making household firearms more accessible (16.13%) and purchasing ammunition (11.97%). Smaller percentages reported carrying a firearm more frequently (6.71%), loading previously unloaded firearms (5.69%), or purchasing a firearm (4.24%). Thematic analysis suggested firearm behaviors were likely driven by a perceived increased need to protect oneself, family, and property due to: (1) uncertainties brought on by the pandemic; (2) pandemic-related threats necessitating self-defense, preparedness, and self-sufficiency; (3) political, social, and racial unrest and protests. PTSD symptom severity and military sexual assault history were associated with higher prevalence of changes in firearm beliefs and engagement in firearm behaviors during the pandemic.

Discussion: Consideration of women Veterans' prior experiences and pandemic-related factors may be necessary to contextualize firearm discussions and inform future research. Given associations of military sexual assault and PTSD symptoms with firearm beliefs and behaviors, it may be crucial to ensure that such discussion are trauma-informed.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19* / complications
  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Military Personnel*
  • Pandemics
  • Sex Offenses*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic* / diagnosis
  • Veterans*

Grants and funding

This manuscript is based upon research funded from a grant from the American Psychological Association, Society for Military Psychology (LLM, RH; https://www.militarypsych.org; no grant number was provided). The funder had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.