IHN Database

Suicide and handgun ownership

IHN logo SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA. Of the more than 30,000 firearm-related deaths recorded in the United States in 1997 more than half were the result of deliberate acts of suicide. Researchers at the University of California now report that owning a handgun is indeed very detrimental to life. Their study involved 238,292 adult Californians who purchased a handgun in 1991. In the first week after purchase the rate of suicide among the gun owners was 57 times higher than among the general population and in the first year after purchase suicide was the leading cause of death. Suicide committed with a firearm was the second-most common specific cause of death after heart disease, but ahead of cancer and traffic accidents.

Women and handguns would appear to be a particularly dangerous mix. Women between the ages of 21 and 44 years purchased 75.4 per cent of handguns bought by women. In this group 51.9 per cent of all deaths during the first year of purchase was due to suicide with 37 per cent having been committed by a firearm, in the vast majority of cases (98.3 per cent) by a handgun. Women who purchased a handgun were also found to be twice as likely to be killed by somebody else with the aid of a handgun than were women in the general population. The researchers conclude that buying a handgun is associated with a substantial increase in the risk of suicide beginning within a week of purchase and persisting for at least six years. They point out that stricter gun control laws in other states and countries have resulted in a rapid decrease in gun-related suicides and suggest that reducing access to firearms is an effective method of preventing suicide by firearm.
Wintemute, Garen J., et al. Mortality among recent purchasers of handguns. New England Journal of Medicine, Vol. 341, November 18, 1999, pp. 1583-89
Rosenberg, Mark L., et al. Firearms and suicide. New England Journal of Medicine, Vol. 341, November 18, 1999, pp. 1609-11 (editorial)

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