Firearms in the house and risk of suicide

Suicide is an important form of external-cause mortality. The World Health Organization estimates that every 40 seconds a person commits suicide in the world. Given that a high proportion of suicides happen impulsively it makes sense that limiting the easy access to lethal means of suicide, such as firearms, during the suicidal crisis, could help to reduce the occurrence of suicides.

The recent work of Barber and Miller – Reducing a Suicidal Person’s Access to Lethal Means of Suicide -
A Research Agenda, provides an interesting review of studies with evidence supporting the link between firearm ownership and suicide risk. This is a particularly important area of research in the U.S. given the fact that most suicides are committed using firearms, firearms are one of the most lethal methods, and also because firearms are highly accessible and cognitively acceptable in U.S. culture. In their review, the authors provide evidence from different individual and ecological studies that consistently show an association between firearm ownership and higher risk of dying by suicide. The authors also present evidence from studies showing that among firearm households there is lower risk of suicides when firearms are stored unloaded, locked, and separately from ammunition. In addition, the review shows information from studies suggesting that personal factors, that could influence both the likelihood of buying a firearm and of committing suicide, are not likely to be explaining the firearms-suicide risk connection, given that people living in homes with firearms are no more likely to screen positive for psychopathology or suicidal ideation, or to report suicide attempts, than those living in homes without firearms.

Given the evidence, it is possible that alternative solutions may be effective. For example, raising awareness about the increased risk of suicide when there is a firearm in the home is key especially during critical times. Simultaneously providing information on available services (e.g. counseling available through hotlines or apps in mobile phones) may be effective, at least in part, in counteracting the current U.S. scenario in which approximately 19,000 individuals commit suicide using firearms every year.

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