Would Gun Control Reduce Suicides?

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The number of people dying from self-inflicted gunshot wounds in the United States has outpaced firearm-related homicides since at least 1920.

In the wake of one of the deadliest years of mass shootings, with 88 dead as a result of 16 mass shootings in 2012, gun control advocates rightly focus on the chances of minimizing harm that one disturbed individual could cause many other by placing restrictions on access to firearms.

Less often discussed in the gun control debate is what effect measures to limit or restrict access to firearms would have on a different kind of violence: suicides.

In 2010, 38,364 died as a result of suicide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of those, 19,392 people took their own lives using firearms. (The next highest means of committing suicide were suffocation and poisoning, with 9,493 and 6,599 people respectively electing these methods.)

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The number of people dying as a result of suicide with a gun in fact exceeds the number of homicides recorded in the United States using firearms in 2010s. Self-inflicted gunshot wounds have outpaced firearm-related homicides since at least 1920, according to the Boston Globe’s Leon Neyfakh.

What’s more, suicides and suicide attempts were more likely to occur in homes of gun owners, based on an array of studies on the possible correlation between the two. More from Neyfakh:

One study found that in a group of adolescents in Pittsburgh who died by committing suicide, 72 percent lived in households with guns; among adolescents who attempted suicide but survived, that number was 37 percent. Another found that across the United States, people who committed suicide in a given year were 17 times as likely to have lived in homes with guns as people who did not. Another found that the 238,292 people in California who bought a gun in 1991 committed suicide at more than four times the rate of the general population.

States that perform background checks and have tighter restrictions on gun purchases have lower firearm suicide (and homicide) deaths as a result of these limitations, according to a 2008 study by researchers at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.

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Furthermore, a presentation described in the Boston Globe article comparing states with high rates of gun ownership with states of low gun ownership showed the “low-gun” states “had similar rates of depression and suicidal thoughts, as well as similar rates of suicide that did not involve firearms, like hanging and poisoning. But the number of people who died by shooting themselves was almost four times greater in the high-gun states.”

Although gun rights advocates frequently cite the need for education as a means of reducing fatal firearm incidents, even those who have experience and a training in the use of firearms could benefit from additional restrictions on the ability to purchase a gun, according to a study published by the Mayo Clinic in 2012.

Veterans in recent years have been blighted by high suicide rates. The suicide rate in the Army exceeds that of the general U.S. population, according to a press release on the study. Of those veterans who commit suicide, nearly 70 percent use a gun to do it.

“All veterans with psychiatric illness should be asked about their access to firearms and encouraged to lock up guns, giving someone else the key, or remove them from the home altogether,” according to the study’s authors. “Just slowing down gun access by a few minutes may be enough to stop the impulse.”

Credit: Corbis Images

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