Gun Ownership and Suicide

A recent interactive by The Economist used 2002 data on the prevalence of household firearms from the Centers for Disease Control to show that gun ownership and suicide are correlated: higher gun ownership rates are associated with higher suicide rates.  The states where gun ownership rates and suicide rates are the highest are Alaska, Wyoming, and Montana.  Nationwide, over 40,000 Americans committed suicide in 2012, an 18 percent increase from 2005.  Guns were used in about half of all incidents.


The data presented by The Economist are consistent with the findings of a review of the academic literature on the effects of gun availability on suicide rates performed by the Harvard Injury Control Research Center.   Studies have shown that:

  • There is strong evidence that gun availability is a risk factor for youth suicide.
  • Cross-sectional and time-series analyses have shown that "people in states with many guns have elevated rates of suicide, particularly firearm suicide."
  • Differences in mental health cannot explain the association between higher gun availability and higher suicide.  "Gun owning households do not have more mental health problems than non-gun owning households; differences in mental health do not explain why gun owners and their families are at higher risk for completed suicide than non-gun owning families."
  • Gun owners are not more suicidal than non-owners.
  • Adolescents who commit suicide with a gun use the family gun.
  • Firearm suicide is the type of suicide most likely to end in death (case fatality rates range from over 90 percent for firearms to under 5 percent for drug overdoses, cutting and piercing).
  • "Levels of firearm ownership largely explain the variation in suicide mortality across the 50 states."
  • "Making it harder to end your life might help to reduce the number of suicides. After Britain switched to blister packs in 1998, which require you to punch pills out one by one, deaths from overdoses of paracetamol (the active ingredient in Tylenol) dropped 44 percent in 11 years."

Read more:
http://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2015/02/daily-chart
http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/hicrc/firearms-research/gun-ownership-and-use/

TeachingwithData.org resources:
Gun Violence in America (http://www.teachingwithdata.org/resource/3864)
Fear of Crime (http://www.teachingwithdata.org/resource/3155)
Crime Victimization in the US: A Data-Driven Learning Guide (http://www.teachingwithdata.org/resource/3437)
Generational Trends in Attitudes about Gun Ownership: A Data-Driven Learning Guide (http://www.teachingwithdata.org/resource/3448)
Crime and Victims Statistics (http://www.teachingwithdata.org/resource/3261)
Frederique Laubepin

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