Gun ownership linked to suicide

A study just published in the Journal of Trauma found that across 50 US States, home gun ownership was linked to an increase in the risk of gun-related suicide.

The man-in-the-street wisdom on suicide goes something like this: ‘If someone wants to kill themselves, they’ll always find a way to do it’.

In actual fact, we now know that availability of an easy method of suicide makes it more likely.

Many drugs are no longer provided in pill bottles, but instead, in blister packs and this is linked to a reduced severity of overdose.

You would think that if someone wanted to die by overdose, pushing pills out a blister pack would be no less of an obstacle than emptying them out of a bottle, but simple measures such as this can be an effective form of self-harm prevention.

Why is this? Well, it’s not really clear, but possibly because every action someone takes on the path to suicide has to be contemplated and thought about.

Perhaps each contemplation makes people reflect and less likely to act impulsively. Certainly, in some people (but not all it seems) impulsivity is linked to a history of suicide attempts.

Pushing 100 pills out of a blister pack is 99 more actions than emptying a bottle of pills, so maybe this gives more time for people to halt any impulsive actions.

Guns are an instant way of killing yourself and this is one explanation of why they might be linked to a higher rate of suicide.

One objection to the gun-suicide association might be that this is just a correlation and suicidal people might be more likely to have guns in their house because they have acquired a method to kill themselves, or otherwise lead lifestyles that would make both owning a gun and killing themselves more likely.

The finding in the Journal of Trauma study is indeed a correlation, but an experimental approach that would find a true causal link – e.g. putting guns in randomly selected households and seeing if more people kill themselves in these homes – would be highly unethical.

However, the study controlled for a number of factors that are typically given as reasons other than just gun ownership for the link, such as poverty, urbanisation, unemployment, mental illness, and drug and alcohol dependence and abuse.

Still the link remained, and remained only for death by firearm, not suicide by any other method.

Link to summary of study (via Furious Seasons).
Link to abstract of scientific study.

4 Comments

  1. Frangible
    Posted April 13, 2007 at 7:45 am | Permalink

    Your commentary reads like an exercise in confirmation bias; transcend your ego and the false choice fallacy of politics ruled by hatred and anger, Vaughan. The explanation for this is quite simple: gun ownership and suicide both correlate with population density, but for different reasons. I’ll let you PubMed and find out why. Break it down per US state, and you’ll start to see trends. Now add drug abuse and depression. You may, in fact, notice a pattern emerging from the data. But oh, the desire to rationalize those emotions that arose is oh-so-tempting.

  2. Vaughan
    Posted April 13, 2007 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    The study controlled for urbanisation (a proxy measure of population density), mental illness and drug abuse.

  3. Frangible
    Posted April 14, 2007 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, proxy measure, which means little (and the study says as much, criticizing proxy measurements) when the true issue is social isolation via low population density. Social isolation/loneliness has been found in numerous other studies to be one of the strongest causal factors of suicide. Not considering this well-known fact is just academic apathy.
    Correlation does not equal causation. I’m not really sure why I need to explain this…

  4. Posted April 17, 2007 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    Hello,
    In december I writed a post about the need (or not) of fire arms. Investigating about it I found that (in spanish, sorry):
    La relación entre disponibilidad de armas e incidentes ocurridos es evidente y ha sido puesta de manifiesto por numerosas investigaciones experimentales y estudios epidemiológicos. En un reciente estudio realizado en USA y presentado en el Annual Meeting of the American Public Health Association (Kellerman y cols. , 1992) los datos eran significativos. El 73% del total de suicidios fueron cometidos con armas de fuego. En los hogares en donde había este tipo de armas, el 86% de los casos de suicidio fueron realizados con este sistema, mientras que unicamente se utilizaron armas de fuego en el 6% de los suicidios en los que el individuo no tenía en propiedad arma de fuego alguna.
    En otros trabajos realizados en Australia se detallaron correlaciones tan elevadas como 0,91 entre disponibilidad de armas de fuego y homicidios perpetrados, o de 0,94 entre disponibilidad de armas y suicidio.
    Link: http://www.cop.es/papeles/vernumero.asp?id=730
    The study was made by a psychological team in order to evaluate the needs for having a possesion permission of fire arms in Spain.


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