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Relationship Between Firearms and Suicide: A Review of the Literature

NCJ Number
Aggression and Violent Behavior Volume: 4 Issue: 1 Dated: 1999 Pages: 59-75
Matthew Miller; David Hemenway
Date Published
17 pages
This article provides a detailed review of the most commonly cited, representative, and thorough empirical studies in the published peer-reviewed literature that relates firearms and suicide, with a focus on the United States.
The empirical studies reviewed are grouped according to whether the unit of analysis is the individual (e.g., case-control studies) or a population (e.g., ecological studies) and further divided according to whether the analysis used cross- sectional or time-series (longitudinal data). The authors conclude that the best empirical evidence on the possible association between gun availability and suicide currently comes from the case-control studies. The results of these studies are compelling, in part, because all their subsidiary findings correspond to current knowledge about risk factors for suicide, and because these studies hold constant many important factors that correlate with suicide. All case-control studies indicate that a gun in the home is significantly associated with a higher risk of suicide, especially among youth. A higher risk to teens is consistent with the notion that they are more likely to act impulsively and therefore more likely to be affected by the availability of the means at hand. The evidence provided by the ecological studies is far less strong. A major limitation of these investigations is the lack of reliable data on firearm availability. In addition, many of these efforts do not include important possible confounders. The empirical evidence from the cross-sectional studies is at best suggestive that an association may exist between gun density and suicide. The preponderance of current evidence indicates that gun availability is a risk factor for youth suicide in the United States. The evidence that gun availability increases the suicide rates of adults is credible, but is currently less compelling. 64 references


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