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Firearm Prevalence and the Risk of Suicide: A Review

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Publication Date: October 2001

Publisher(s): Harvard Health Policy Review

Author(s): David Hemenway, PhD


Special Collection: The Joyce Foundation

Topic: Health (Mental health)
Social conditions (Safety and security)

Keywords: suicide; gun violence

Type: Report

Coverage: United States


This article summarizes literature on the relationship between gun ownership levels and suicide rates. Throughout the literature an implicit question motivates research: are suicides largely determined by the strength of intent alone or do ready availability of lethal means increase the likelihood that susceptible individuals will take their own lives?

The paper reviews expert opinion and related evidence. Some of it supports the idea that both intent and instrumentality matter, and that individuals who commit suicide often do so when confronting a severe but temporary crisis. For example, it cites one study of 18 men who survived self-inflicted intentional gunshot wounds to the face, where subsequent suicide attempts were uncommon. In another study of self-inflicted gunshot wounds that would have proven fatal without emergency treatment, none of the 30 attempters had written a suicide note, and more than half reported suicidal thoughts for less than 24 hours. After two years, none of the 30 people attempted suicide again.