Guns in home increase suicide, homicide risk

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By Ben Tinker, CNN

Proponents of stricter gun laws have another headline to bolster their efforts: Access to firearms in the home increases the risk of violent death.

Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, in a review of previous studies published Monday, found strong evidence for increased odds of suicide and moderate evidence for increased odds of homicide victimization among people who keep guns at home.

Firearm ownership is more common in the United States (upwards of one-third of households) than in any other country – and firearms cause more than 31,000 deaths a year here, according to the review. Further, the annual rate of suicide by firearms in America is higher than in any other country with reported data; the annual rate of firearm-related homicides in America is the highest among high-income countries.

People who completed suicide – as well as homicide victims – were most commonly men. Most people who completed suicide were white. Most homicide victims were non-Hispanic black or another race.

“Specific characteristics about storage and types of firearms seem to increase suicide risk,” writes Andrew Anglemyer, who authored the review of 15 previous studies in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine. “Firearms that are stored loaded or unlocked are more likely to be used than those that are unloaded or locked, and adolescent suicide victims often use an unlocked firearm in the home.”

Anglemyer and his team go on to note that “the availability of firearms in the home may not be the catalyst for suicidal ideation, but firearms may be a preferred method of suicide among those who have suicidal thoughts.”

They cite 2011 research that showed adolescents with firearm access were no more likely to have suicidal thoughts or a suicide plan in the past 12 months than those without firearm access. However, among adolescents with a suicide plan, those with a firearm in the home were more than seven times more likely to have a plan involving firearms than those without a firearm in the home.

“The evidence that a gun in the home increases the risk for suicide is overwhelming,” writes David Hemenway of the Harvard School of Public Health, in an accompanying editorial, “even stronger than Anglemyer and colleagues’ robust findings.”

One reason for this, he explains, is that the UCSF team examined only individual-level studies. “Anglemyer and colleagues display an opposite and potentially equally misleading bias by excluding population-level evidence (an analysis of a population rather than an individual),” says Hemenway.

Results from ecological studies suggest that state restrictions on firearm ownership are associated with decreases in firearm-related suicides and homicides.

Since 1996, federal law has prohibited U.S. Department of Health and Human Services agencies from using funds for research that could be interpreted as promoting or advocating for gun control.

“Although there is little evidence that having a gun reduces the risk for homicide victimization,” writes Hemenway, “there is not yet compelling evidence that having a gun substantially increases the risk for homicide victimization for most men. What does put men at substantially increased risk for homicide victimization is other men having access to guns.”

For most families, bringing a gun into the home substantially increases the risk for suicide for all family members and the risk for women being murdered in the home, according to the study.

“Evidence not included in their review also indicates that gun in the home increases the risk for homicide victimization for others in society. This increased risk may be due to someone in the family shooting others (for example, the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting) or the gun being stolen and used by criminals,” Hemenway writes. “Obtaining a firearm not only endangers those living in the home but also imposes substantial costs on the community.”

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12 comments

  • Kendall

    Um, Knifes in the house increase the risk of being cut.
    Eating onions raises the risk of becoming teary eyed.
    Living where there are mosquito’s increases the risk of being bit.

    • RyNo

      Alcohol in the house can increase chances of becoming drunk. Let’s just ban everything! Ridiculous article…

  • MRey

    Oh my goodness… So since it has a statistic now it must be dangerous for everyone to have a gun. Ugh…. So here we go. Media trying to convince society by twisting everything we see and hear.

  • areal Patriot

    What do you expect when some one from the University of California,San Francisco, does a study about guns and when they will always give a biased result? More guns equals less crime and Utah is a good example of that. Utah has very low crime compared to California. If someone is intent on suicide or killing ones family, they will find a way. Why do you post this liberal rhetoric?

  • longranger

    Cherry picked info by anti 2a liberals with an agenda. Our own governments recent study found differently. The fbi and cdc info do not match these findings including the study the president ordered done that proved opposite of this cherry picked study. They say 31000 is over whelming yet the 7 million time firearms are used to stop violent crime is insignificant. What a crock of bs

  • Dean Smith

    You forgot spoons make people fat and cars cause road rage. The only suicide in my home caused by my firearms will be indirectly instigated by the intruder as I use said firearms to instigate legal homicide on said intruder when I exercise my right to defend my family.

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