Methods: This study utilized data collected from a purposive sample of 1,426 YAEH recruited from community homeless service agencies in seven major cities across the US between 2016 and 2017. All YAEH were between 18 and 26 years old (Mage=20.9). The outcome of interest was the presence/absence of easy firearm access. The focal independent variables were the presence/absence of past year suicidal ideation and suicide attempts. Covariates in the study included homelessness experiences, adverse childhood experiences, street victimization history, and mental health/psychosocial history. Descriptive analysis and logistic regression models were conducted to answer the two research questions.
Results: Over 34 percent YAEH reported they could gain “access to a firearm easily if they wanted to”. As for past-year suicidal crises, 27 percent had experienced suicidal ideation, while 14% had attempted suicide. Controlling for all other variables, both past-year suicidal ideation (OR=1.46; 95% CI=1.09-1.96) and suicide attempts (OR=1.43; 95% CI=1.02-2.04) were positively associated with easy access to firearms.
Conclusion and Implications: With previous literature highlighting fatal implications of firearm access during suicidal crises, findings of the study support our grave concerns that many young adults in this at-risk population have easy access to firearms. Even more worrisome, YAEH who had experienced recent suicidal crises were more likely to have easy firearm access. Curbing firearm access among YAEH, therefore, is critical to reduce suicide in this vulnerable group. Unfortunately, existing efficacious interventions aiming to reduce firearm access among people experiencing suicidal crises may not translate well to homelessness contexts. Future suicide risk reduction efforts should focus on adapting existing evidence-based interventions (e.g., free firearm locks/lockboxes provisions; buddy systems for storage) to address unique barriers among YAEH.