Troubled veterans favor voluntary gun control that could save their lives

Veterans are killing themselves at a rate of 17 suicides a day, and among those at greatest risk, there is little resistance to voluntary measures that would limit their access to guns.

Professor Matthew Miller - Bouvé College of Health Sciences

Health sciences professor Matthew Miller. Credit: Brooks Canaday.

“In fact, most veterans—including veteran gun owners—welcome the discussion,” said health sciences professor Matthew Miller, co-author of a new study published in General Hospital Psychiatry.

The study found that 93 percent of veterans who are in treatment for depression, substance abuse, and other mental health issues favor some form of voluntary gun control for those in crisis.

“This should provide a green light to clinicians to bring up gun safety—it should reinforce the fact that they have a professional and a moral duty to engage in these conversations,” said Miller, who co-authored the study along with colleagues from the University of Michigan and West Virginia University.

He emphasized that it is reasonable to generalize these findings to the general population

“People don’t want to die,” he said. “If they’re going through a hard time, they’re willing to take action that will help keep them safe. They understand that they may have an impulse they can’t control.”

Miller’s previous research has shown that suicide attempts are deadlier when they involve a firearm. The fatality rate for attempts with firearms is 91 percent, compared to 13 percent overall, and just 2 percent for intentional drug overdoses.

His current study surveyed 660 veterans receiving mental health serves through the Veteran’s Administration. The researchers found that:

  • 82 percent supported screening for access to firearms
  • 69 percent supported temporary gun locks
  • 66 percent supported education for family and friends
  • 62 percent supported a VA program for gun disposal.

More than 50 percent of those who own guns said they would make use of these measures if they were in crisis.

“They want to do what’s best to protect themselves—and keep their families from losing them,” said Miller.

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