Association of Rates of Household Handgun Ownership, Lifetime Major Depression, and Serious Suicidal Thoughts with Rates of Suicide Across U.S. Census Regions

Publication Date: January 2002

Publisher: Joyce Foundation

Author(s): David Hemenway, PhD; Matthew Miller, MD, MPH, ScD

Research Area: Health

Keywords: suicide; depression; gun violence

Type: Report

Coverage: United States


Studies in the United States often find a significant positive association between levels of household firearm ownership and suicide rates. This study investigates whether the association can be explained by differences in levels of mental health. It examines the relationship between household handgun ownership and overall suicide rates across nine U.S. regions after accounting for two mental health variables—lifetime prevalence of major depression and serious suicidal thoughts. Other added control variables used are urbanization, education, unemployment, or alcohol consumption.

Across regions, household handgun ownership rates are positively correlated with the suicide rate and are not correlated with either the prevalence of major depression or suicidal thoughts. After controlling for major depression and suicidal thoughts (and any of the four additional control variables), handgun ownership rates remain significantly associated with the overall suicide rate.

The study concludes that in the regions with higher levels of household handgun ownership, there are higher suicide rates. This relationship cannot be explained by differences in the prevalence of two mental health indicators—lifetime rates of either major depression or suicidal thoughts.