New study raises alarm about access to guns in homes with mentally ill teens

A new study is raising alarm about the ease teens with histories of mental illness or suicidal acts have to guns in their homes.

The study found that 41 percent of teens in a home with a firearm had easy access to the weapon and that the percentage was the same among teens who suffer from mental health problems or who tried to kill themselves or thought about it.

Dr. Joseph Simonetti, of the University of Washington School of Medicine's Harborview Medical Center, led the study and spoke to UPI Saturday about what needs to be done.

"Studies have consistently shown that children living in homes with safely-stored firearms are less likely to be shot, and safe firearm storage is widely recommended by gun rights organizations and public health officials," he said. "Trigger locks and gun lockboxes can be purchased for less than $10 online, and in common stores."

Simonetti and his researchers based their findings on data collected from 10,123 teens, ages 13 to 18, from 2001 to 2004.

A Reuters Health story about the study on the Scientific American website reported Friday that a third of the teen respondents lived in a home with a firearm and that older, male and white teens reported the easiest access.

As part of the study, the Simonetti research team, writing in JAMA Psychiatry, pointed out that suicide is the second leading cause of death for teens and having a firearm in the home is one risk factor for suicide.

Reuters Health quoted Simonetti as raising caution about his findings because they are based on old data.

"One of the limitations of this study is we're using data that was collected from 2001 to 2004," the researcher said. "We need better studies on how to promote safe firearms storage especially in households with children and children with mental illness."