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Mortality among Recent Purchasers of Handguns

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Publication Date: November 1999

Publisher(s): The New England Journal of Medicine

Author(s): Garen J. Wintemute; Mona A. Wright; J.J. Beaumont; C.A. Parham; C.M. Drake


Special Collection: The Joyce Foundation

Topic: Social conditions (Safety and security)

Keywords: gun laws; gun sales ; gun ownership

Type: Report

Coverage: California


There continues to be considerable controversy over whether ownership of a handgun increases or decreases the risk of violent death. This study compares mortality among 238,292 persons who purchased a handgun in California between 1991-1996 with that in the state’s general adult population. It found that in the first year after the purchase of a handgun, suicide was the leading cause of death among handgun purchasers.
The increased risk of suicide by any method among handgun purchasers was attributable entirely to an excess risk of suicide with a firearm. In the first week after the purchase of a handgun, the rate of suicide by means of firearms among purchasers was 57 times as high as the adjusted rate in the general population.
The study concludes that the purchase of a handgun is associated with a substantial increase in the risk of suicide by firearm and by any method. The increase in the risk of suicide by firearm is apparent within a week after the purchase of a handgun and persists for at least six years.