Even gun owners are concerned about the risk guns in the home pose. Owners worry about gun safety — particularly that a gun stored at home will be used in a suicide or responsible for a possibly deadly accidental injury.

That's why most gun owners are open to the idea of storing guns securely, no matter what their position on gun laws might be. With this in mind, researchers at the University of Washington came up with a gun safety approach that meets gun enthusiasts on their home turf: At a gun show.

Nearly 1200 people received training designed to educate gun owners about the importance of securing firearms and medications in the home to prevent future suicide.

The idea was to connect with gun owners physically and psychologically, and to have a conversation with them about keeping guns out of the hands of children and those who might be considering suicide. The approach, called SAFER, involved a structured conversation emphasizing gun owners’ and gun safety advocates’ shared interest in preventing suicide and accidental gun deaths.

Researchers attended 18 gun shows and community events around Washington State to engage attendees in a plan to prevent suicide. Nearly 1200 people received the training, which was designed to educate gun owners about the importance of securing firearms and medications in the home to prevent future suicide.

As gun show visitors passed a gun safety event booth, they were approached by members of Forefront Suicide Prevention from the University of Washington. Booth display signs offered, “free firearm locking equipment,” “free chocolate,” or “Do you want to learn how to save a life?”

Gun owners who agreed to take part filled out a questionnaire about how they stored their guns at home and received information about the risk of suicide when guns are stored securely and how preventable suicide fatalities are if weapons and medications are kept in locked storage.

The idea behind the conversations was to encourage an alliance between the gun owner and the person delivering the SAFER suicide prevention message. Specific recommendations for secure gun and medication storage were offered, tailored to the specific circumstances of the gun owner.

Eighty-five percent of the participants reported keeping a firearm at home, and 63 percent had children or teens living in their homes. Just over 50 percent of the participants indicated those firearms were locked up. Roughly 43 percent of the people involved in the SAFER training had been members of the armed forces. Nearly three-quarters were men, about half of whom were between the ages of 35 and 64.

A majority (87 percent) of the participants expressed an interest in obtaining a locking device.

The idea was to reach people at higher risk for suicide, including veterans and middle-aged men, and teach them better firearm and medication locking behaviors. About half the participants completed a pre-assessment before the training and a post-assessment after it. Rates of safe storage of firearms and medications improved by about a third between the two assessments.

The results are promising because they show that meeting people where they're at, physically and psychologically, can lead to behavior change that can prevent tragedy. “We need to be educating people who own firearms or are considering purchasing them that suicide is a possible risk to take into consideration and to make plans in advance to mitigate these risks,” lead author, Jennifer Stuber, an associate professor of social work at the University of Washington, said.

“So many people are in crisis today — from youth, to veterans, to our men in economic distress and in relationship turmoil — we are all vulnerable. We need to educate firearms owners, both experienced and new, at the point of purchase and other places we can find them to raise awareness,“ she added.

The study is published in BMJ Injury Prevention.