More guns = more suicides


As we saw in a post last week, counterintuitively the most lethal means of committing suicide are those that require the least planning. This fact has big implications for the debate around the most ‘effective’ method of all: guns.

In the US, the UK and most other countries there are far more firearm related suicides than homicides. And what is more it is seems that more guns mean more suicides.

A study by the Harvard School of Public Health of all 50 U.S. states reveals a powerful link between rates of firearm ownership and suicides. Based on a survey of American households conducted in 2002, HSPH Assistant Professor of Health Policy and Management Matthew Miller, Research Associate Deborah Azrael, and colleagues at the School’s Injury Control Research Center (ICRC), found that in states where guns were prevalent—as in Wyoming, where 63 percent of households reported owning guns—rates of suicide were higher. The inverse was also true: where gun ownership was less common, suicide rates were also lower.

This relationship seems to also apply at an individual level and when rates of mental illness are controlled for.

The logic underlying this finding is pretty clear: 90% of people who attempt suicide don’t try again. So suicide rates are essentially a product of the number of people who succeed first time. And tragically 85% of those who attempt suicide with guns end their lives relative to just 3% who use drug overdoses. So even if reducing the number of guns in circulation does not prevent a single suicide attempt it could still cut the number of people ending their own lives.


2 thoughts on “More guns = more suicides

  1. Which is one of the reasons I support guns. People who wish to commit suicide should not be forced into living because of being forced to use long, painful, scarier ways to do so. They should have the option of a quick and easy way if that’s what they want. Attempting your own life is terrifying enough as it is, without having to do it more than once after a humiliating round of hospitals.

    • I see the force of that argument. However, the fact that so few people whose attempts fail retry suggests that in general the desire to end your life is generally a state that passes unless it is fatal. It also doesn’t seem to be a considered decision: in one of the links are figures showing that people who attempt suicide are generally only thinking about it for a few minutes beforehand.

      In short I think there is pretty good evidence to suggest that people who commit suicide would typically regret it afterwards – if they get the chance.

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