TUESDAY, Nov. 17, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- Those who buy guns as the pandemic rages are more likely to be suicidal than those who already own firearms, a new study finds.
In fact, among people who bought guns during the pandemic, about 70% reported having suicidal thoughts, while just 37% of other gun owners had such thoughts, researchers found.
"People who were motivated to purchase firearms during COVID-19 might have been driven by anxiety that leaves them vulnerable to suicidal ideation," said researcher Michael Anestis, executive director of the New Jersey Gun Violence Research Center and an associate professor at the Rutgers School of Public Health in Piscataway, N.J.
"While this does not guarantee an increase in suicide rates, it represents an unusually large surge in risk made more troubling by the fact that firearms purchased during COVID-19 may remain in homes beyond the pandemic," he said in a university news release.
During the first four months of the pandemic, more than 2.5 million Americans bought guns for first time. In March alone, when the pandemic began with a vengeance in the United States, roughly 2 million guns were purchased, Anestis said.
For the study, the researchers surveyed 3,500 Americans. A third of them owned guns.
The researchers found that of those who bought a gun during the pandemic, 70% had suicidal thoughts throughout their lives, 56% had suicidal thoughts during the past year, and 25% had suicidal thoughts during the past month.
Among people who did not buy guns during the pandemic only 56%, 24% and 12%, respectively, had suicidal thoughts during those time periods.
"Firearm owners are usually no more likely than non-firearm owners to experience suicidal thoughts," Anestis noted. "It is possible that a higher-risk group is driving the current firearm purchasing surge, introducing long-term suicide risk into the homes of individuals who otherwise may not have acquired firearms during a time of extended social isolation, economic uncertainty and general upheaval."
People who bought a gun during the pandemic also were also less likely to store guns in a secure way, including storing the weapons unloaded or using locking devices.
"The increase in firearm purchases is concerning, given that suicide is three times more likely in homes with firearms, and there is a hundred-fold increase in an individual's suicide risk immediately following the purchase of a handgun," Anestis said. "And unsafe firearm storage increases that risk."
The report was published Nov. 17 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
For more on guns and suicide, see Harvard University.
SOURCE: Rutgers University, news release, Nov. 17, 2020.