Associations Among Exaggerated Threat Perceptions, Suicidal Thoughts, and Suicidal Behaviors In U.S. Firearm Owners

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© 2020 Elsevier Ltd Firearm availability has traditionally been conceptualized as an environmental risk factor for suicide mortality. Firearm acquisition for the primary purpose of self-protection (i.e., protective gun ownership) is often motivated by exaggerated threat expectancies—a central component of anticipatory anxiety—but firearm acquisition may paradoxically reinforce or exacerbate threat expectancies and contribute to behavioral disinhibition. Firearm ownership may therefore confer increased risk for suicide mortality through biobehavioral mechanisms. The present study conducted an initial test of this hypothesis by examining associations among firearm ownership, intentions to acquire additional firearms, threat expectancies, and past-month suicidal thoughts and behaviors using data collected from a national sample of 6200 U.S. adults. Results indicated threat expectancies and rates of suicide-related behaviors were significantly elevated among protective gun owners and participants who intended to acquire a firearm within the next year as compared to non-gun owners and non-protective gun owners. Threat expectancies were associated with significantly increased risk for past-month suicide-related behavior. Results suggest that threat expectancies in particular, and anticipatory anxiety more generally, may be biobehavioral processes associated with the correlation of firearm ownership and increased suicide risk.

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Journal of Psychiatric Research



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