Research Reports

Formal firearm training among adults in the USA: results of a national survey

Formal firearm training among adults in the USA: results of a national survey

There are an estimated 55 million gun owners in the U.S., owning 265 million guns. Yet there has been little research on firearms training available to and received by gun owners. A new study found that 61 percent of gun owners report having received formal training, which is largely unchanged since a similar survey was conducted in 2004.

Findings were first reported online in Injury Prevention. The report’s lead author is Ali Rowhani-Rahbar, associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Washington School of Public Health. Nearly 4,000 adults (18 and older) participated in the study, which oversampled gun owners and excluded active-duty military personnel. Data were drawn from a nationally representative, web-based survey conducted in 2015 (survey methodology can be found here).

Participants were asked: “Have you ever had any formal firearm training?” Those who answered yes were then asked if the training included information about safe handling and storage of firearms, accident prevention, theft prevention and suicide prevention.

Approximately three in five firearm owners (61.4%) report having received training. Among non-owners living with a firearm owner, 14.3% reported having received training. Male gun owners were more likely to receive training than female gun owners (63% vs. 48%). Other groups who were more likely to have received training include: firearm owners who own both handguns and long guns; those who own more than one firearm; owners who had a concealed carry weapon permit; and those who had carried a loaded handgun in the past 30 days. Those who reported owing a firearm for protection only were less likely to have received training than those who owned a firearm for other reasons such as hunting.

The most common combination of training topics was safe handling, safe storage and accident prevention. Safe handling was the most commonly reported topic of training, while suicide prevention was the least common. 61.1 percent of firearm owners had received training in safe handling while only 14.7 percent had received training in suicide prevention.

Policy Implications

The survey also found broad agreement that gun owners should have training. 80 percent of respondents said that they agree or strongly agree that individuals should undergo training before owning their first firearm. Yet, 40 percent of gun owners have had no formal training.

Further, access to firearms in the home is a risk factor for suicide, but few firearm owners have received any training in suicide prevention. Utah provides a model for including suicide prevention as part of concealed weapons training classes. Programs such as the Harvard Injury Control Research Center’s Gun Shop Project disseminates materials aimed both at reducing suicides involving recently-purchased firearms as well as existing household firearms.

For more coverage of this study, see:

Rowhani-Rahbar A, Lyons VH, Simonetti JA, et al. Formal firearm training among adults in the USA: results of a national survey. Inj Prev 2017;0:1–5. doi:10.1136/injuryprev-2017-042352.

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