Suicides: The Missing Movement- Why More Guns Means More Suicides

Posted On October 31, 2013
teen_suicide_depression.teen.and.gun1.1
October 31, 2013

Billy and the Golden Gate Bridge

“The Golden Gate Bridge is practically suicide proof. Suicide from the bridge is neither possible nor probable” –Chief Engineer Joseph Strauss, 1936

Billy was an 18-year old high school student.  He attended a private school, achieved a 1400 on his SAT, and was accepted on early admission for college.   He did not drink, smoke, or do drugs.   He told his mother, “I’m not the most popular kid, but there’s no one who doesn’t like me.”  On this particular week, Billy was behind on a school paper about the Challenger disaster.  He told his mom that he couldn’t stop thinking about death.  His mother thought it was odd, but nobody in his family thought Billy might be depressed.   The following day, Billy committed suicide by jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge.  The entire student body attended his funeral.

Billy’s profile fit none of the predictive factors for adolescent suicide.  When his friend was asked why he thought Billy might have killed himself that day his friend responded, “The only explanation I can find is that he never stopped to think it through. He didn’t tell anyone and he didn’t leave a note.”

Such Great Heights: Suicide Barriers and Firearms Restrictions

The Golden Gate Bridge opened up in May 18, 1937, a technological marvel marrying strength and beauty.  Less than three months later, the first known suicide took place.  Since then, over 1,500 people have taken their lives by jumping off the bridge, making the site one of the most popular suicide sites in the world.  Calls for the construction of an anti-suicide barrier, as have been erected in other popular locations such as the Eiffel Tower, the Empire State Building, and Arroyo Seco Bridge, have been rejected by policymakers who have argued that the type of people who attempt suicide will “just go somewhere else.”  Bridge or no bridge, they argue, a suicidal person will be successful.

A famous study sought to challenge this contention, tracking 515 persons who were restrained from committing suicide on the Golden Gate Bridge.   Was it the case that people who failed to commit suicide simply sought recourse to other means?  Definitively not.  Ninety percent of people who had been prevented from jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge did not go on to commit suicide.  The findings confirmed the idea that suicides are often ‘crisis-oriented’ and impulsive in nature.  In many of these cases, a failed suicide lead to reflection on the preciousness of life, facilitating a renewed commitment to living.  The less lethal the means of suicide, then, the higher the likelihood that this life-affirming moment of reflection will happen.

Numerous studies have confirmed the point that suicide barriers are useful deterrents: when barriers were built on the Duke Ellington Memorial Bridge in Washington, D.C., the Augusta River Bridge in Maine, the Muenster Terrace in Bern, Switzerland, and the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol, England, suicide attempts on those structures dropped markedly.  Total suicides in these areas dropped as well, corroborating that barriers did not simply divert suicide attempts elsewhere.

The data, in each of these cases, show that the motivations for suicide are much more complex than intuitively appealing ideas of inevitability, and are subject to very basic policy interventions.  The belief that suicide always involves a meticulous planning process, one that inexorably leads to a successful suicide, is not only categorically incorrect but dangerous because it impedes the most useful strategies for preventing suicide—namely, means reduction.

The reason, of course, this is being posted on a blog about guns is that precisely the same bad arguments forwarded by policymakers to challenge the construction of suicide barriers are being used by the National Rifle Association (NRA) and conservative politicians to challenge gun regulation.   And they couldn’t be more wrong.

If barriers on bridges can significantly reduce the suicide rate, why can’t barriers to accessing firearms do so well?

Debunking “They’ll Do It Anyway” – The Impulsiveness of Suicide

Study finds the impulsiveness of suicide is related to a “disability of the suicide attempters to regulate their serotonin and dopamine levels, e.g. in response to external stress” (Ryding, 2006).

Before we delve into this question, I want to make it clear precisely why ‘means reduction’ strategies are effective at reducing overall suicide rates.

An impulsive suicide is one for which there is very little preparation prior to a suicide attempt.  A 2001 study, using the Beck’s Suicidal Intent Scale, examined 478 individuals who attempted suicide, and found that more than half (55%) of attempts could be classified as ‘impulsive’, while only about one-sixth (17%) of attempts were premeditated.  Other studies use time criteria to temporally operationalize impulsiveness.  One such study found that 40% of suicide attempt survivors contemplated suicide for less than 5 minutes before the attempt.  In addition, the most recent data set from the National Violent Injury Statistics System reported that 61% of suicide victims had not indicated intent to commit suicide to friends or family members prior to the attempt.

If we are interested in decreasing the suicide rate (which we should be), then we ought to invest in policies that decrease the probability than these transient moments of impulsiveness will have lethal consequences.

If it were the case that suicides are the inevitable byproduct of some chronic mental or environmental issue, we should expect forecasting a future suicide may be possible.  However, research has found that, because of suicide’s inherent impulsivity, statistical prediction is nearly impossible.

An American study of 4,800 veterans admitted in psychiatric facilities in Houston found that, “we do not possess any item of information or any combination of items that permit us to identify to a useful degree the particular persons who will commit suicide.”  A suicide prevention researcher substantiated this claim, arguing that, because of the low base rate of suicide one “would need a test of unbelievable sensitivity and specificity to be of use.”

It should be clear, then, that there’s nothing “inevitable” about a suicide, nothing predictable about impulsiveness.  To turn a blind eye to suicide based on the pretense that they’ll “just try again” demonstrates a profound ignorance of the psychology of suicide, and a callous unwillingness to consider the struggle of another human being.

The Causal Relationship Between Firearms and Suicides

Domestic Evidence

The overview: Dr. David Hemenway of the Harvard School of Public Health summarized ten studies in the previous twenty years examining the relationship between gun ownership and suicide and found that “all [of them] find that firearms in the home are associated with substantially and significantly higher rates of suicide.”

Furthermore, every single case-control study done in the United States has found the presence of a firearm is a strong risk factor for suicide.  (That’s 24 separate studies).

The meat: The latest available data on suicide rates, published by the Centers for Disease Control, shows that 38,364 suicides occurred in the United States in 2010—an average of 105 each day.  This makes suicide the tenth leading cause of death for all age groups in 2010.   Males are particularly at risk for suicide, given that men are four times more likely to commit suicide than females, thereby representing 79% of all suicides.   Among males, firearms are the most commonly used method, being used in 56% of all suicides.

For every suicide, there were more than ten hospitalizations for injuries, which resulted in an estimated cost of $6.5 billion in medical expenses and work loss.  State mental health agencies (SMHA) spent $37.3 billion in order to confront this problem.   There is significant evidence to suggest that, with respect to suicide, guns increase the likelihood of a ‘successful’ attempt—this is referred to as an ‘instrumentality’ effect.   If this is the case, then it’s not unreasonable to think that the overall firearm ownership rate in an area increases the suicide rate because less efficacious means would be substituted for guns.  An alternative mechanism by which gun availability might influence suicides is by increasing the number of suicide attempts—that is, a suicidal person may avoid committing suicide in the absence of gun availability because they are concerned about failing.  In addition, it may be the case that the presence of a weapon primes aggressive thoughts which may encourage suicidal impulses in an otherwise stable person.

Several studies have investigated the effectiveness of gun regulation laws in attenuating the suicide rate, with many arguing that gun restrictions should be one of the key elements in suicide reduction.  Even though this is well known among public health officials, gun debates are often mired in the question of how gun regulation affects homicide and crime rates, but there is very little discussion in policy circles about the enormous effect gun regulation could have on suicide rates.  This is true despite the fact that “more guns = more suicides” is the closest we will ever get to an incontrovertible statement in the gun debate.

Two theoretical caveats problematize the assessment of causation, and should be mentioned before delving into the literature on this topic.  First, though a correlation exists between gun ownership per capita and suicide, there may be a self-selection bias.  That is, that the types of people who are likely to own guns might be predisposed to suicidal behavior.  It could also be the case that some exogenous change in the environment decreased suicide rates and gun ownership concomitantly.  A more liberal Congress, for example, might implement both gun regulation policies and suicide prevention policies, producing the illusion of causation between these two variables.   Both of these issues have been dealt with through statistical techniques and robust research methods, and the data clearly show that the direction of causality runs from guns to suicides.

A 2000 paper by Ludwig and Cook estimated whether declines in suicides over the period 1985-1997 were associated with the passage of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act.  The Brady Act required that federally licensed firearms dealers perform a background check and implement a five-day waiting period prior to the sale of a handgun.  Eighteen states and the District of Colombia already satisfied Brady requirements, while the other thirty-four states required more stringent procedures. Therefore, researchers observed a natural experiment in which the states that already met Brady requirements were considered a ‘control’ group, and were compared against states in which dealers and law enforcement officials had yet to implement requirements.   The study found that the legislation produced a significant reduction in suicide rates among persons aged 55 or older, suggesting that suicidal impulses in older individuals were attenuated by the imposition of the five day waiting period, thereby decreasing the suicide rate.

A 2006 paper published by Miller and colleagues at the Harvard School of Public Health explored changes in household firearm ownership in the United States over the period 1981-2002 as it related to a decline in the suicide rate, controlling for age, unemployment, per capita alcohol consumption, and poverty rates.

Household gun ownership levels and rates of firearm and non‐firearm suicide mortality: United States, 1981–2002 (Miller et al., 2006).

The study found that, for every 10% decline in the household firearm ownership rate, firearm suicides decreased by 4.2%, and total suicides dropped by 2.5%.  The decline in suicide rates was highest among children.  Examining just households containing both children and firearms, every 10% decline in the percentage of households owning a firearm was related with a 8.3% drop in the suicide rate for individuals between the ages of 0-19.  Gun-regulation opponents alleging that this study is merely correlation should have to point out some covariate not accounted for in this analysis that could simultaneously explain why changes in the firearm suicide rate are related to changes in firearm ownership rate, but not related to the non-firearm suicide rate (as might be the case with an exogenous environmental change).   Furthermore, the largest study done to assess mental health trends in the United States over the period investigated by the paper found that there was no significant change in suicidal tendencies between 1990-2000.  We therefore have evidence that, even after holding psychological tendencies constant, the presence of guns has a dramatic effect on the suicide rate.

A 2011 study published in the Journal of Health Policy related suicide rates and gun regulations using CDC data in states over the period 1994-2004.   Gun regulation was operationalized through three additive indices: (1) the absence or presence of licensing requirements or prohibitions on the sale of firearms to minors; (2) firearm prohibitions based on behavioral patterns statistically linked to suicide such as alcoholism, drug problems, and mental health; (3) and an index that captured four different types of prohibitions that are related to the purchaser’s criminal history whether they be illegal immigrants, convicted felons, fugitives from justice, or those with a history of juvenile crime.

Because firearm prevalence is strongly related to firearm regulation, the study controlled for gun ownership by adding an instrumental variable—the number of hunting licenses per capita from the Fish and Wild Life Service– as a proxy for gun availability into their model. A negative binomial regression was used to estimate the effect of regulations on suicide.

The research found that prohibitions on firearm sales to minors and permit requirements were the most effective in terms of reducing suicide, with a statistically significant result even after controlling for gun prevalence and socioeconomic variables.  As twelve states continue to allow the sale of long guns to minors, with the same amount requiring permits for the purchase of firearms, regulations in these areas can prove to have an immediate, significant impact on reducing suicide rates.

International Evidence

A 2010 study by Lubin et al. studied the effect of a policy change in Israel which reduced access to firearms for adolescents in the Israeli Defense Forces’ (IDF).   Given that many IDF soldiers returned home on the weekend with their firearms, and 90% of all suicides in Israel are committed with a firearm, the mandate of the legislation required that IDF soldiers leave their weapons at the base when returning home for the weekend. Suicide rates between the years 2003-2005 were compared with the post-policy change rates of 2007-2008.  The study found that the total suicide rate decreased by 40% as a direct result of the policy change, without a compensatory increase in the non-firearm suicide rate.  This fact suggests that guns are somehow unique in exacerbating one’s suicidal potential—it’s not the case that a suicidal person will end his or her life irrespective of the means available, but that guns both increase the rates of impulsiveness and success.

A 2010 study by Mathieu Gagné and his colleagues examined whether stronger firearm regulations implemented in the Canadian province of Quebec in 1991 influenced suicide rates among men. In the 1990s, the rate of suicide among men in Quebec reached an all-time high, and since then has been markedly declining.  The decline in suicide rates coincided with the implementation of Bill C-17 which, among other things, required firearm license applicants to provide a photograph and two references; imposed a 28-day waiting period; mandated a safety training requirement; and addressed safe storage practices. A previous study done in 2008 found no relationship between the regulations and suicide rates, but it suffered from serious methodological errors, including a prohibitively small time-frame for analysis, and statistical methods that did not take into account the lag time between the implementation of the law and behavioral changes.

Suicide rates by firearms, hanging and total suicide rates among men, Quebec, 1981–2006, according to methodological choices. (Gagné et al., 2010).

The study found that, five years after C-17’s implementation, suicide rates among young men decreased by 11.1%.   Rates declined similarly, though to a lesser extent in men aged 34-65.   The study found that there was also a decrease in other methods of suicide such as hanging and gas poisoning, refuting the argument that decreases in firearm suicides would cause concomitant increases in suicides achieved by other methods.  The less pronounced decline in the suicide rate for elderly populations was likely due to the fact that older men were already likely to have a securely stored firearm, and thus were relatively unaffected by C-17 specific regulations.

Another study published in 2007 in the British Journal of Psychiatry examined the effect of suicide and homicide rates in Austria before and after the implementation of firearm regulation mandated for all member states of the European Union.   The regulations, which were passed in July 1997, required all firearm purchasers to specify a reason for their need of a firearm; it implemented background checks and psychological testing for all people 21 years or older wishing to obtain a handgun, semi-automatic firearm or repeating firearm; it specified safe storage procedures for firearms; and implemented a 3-day waiting period for long firearms with smooth bore and rifled barrels.

Firearm suicide rates before and after the 1997 firearm legislation (Kapusta et al., 2007).

The study looked at suicide and homicide rates 12 years prior and 8 years after the passage of these regulations.  The paper found that:

“[the] firearm suicide rate decreased among women aged 20–64 years, men aged 20–64 years and men aged 65 years or older; firearm suicides as a percentage of total suicides decreased; the firearm homicide rate decreased; and the overall firearm licence rate decreased after enactment of the new law. These results hold true even when adjusting for common confounders of suicide rates such as unemployment and average alcohol consumption per capita as well as the proportion of young men in the population”

Debunking the Mark Duggan Paper: Why Guns Cause Suicide, and Not the Other Way Around

A 2002 paper by Wharton Economist Mark Duggan found that there is at least some correlation between suicidal tendencies and gun ownership that is potentially driven by the fact that gun owners may have higher-than-average suicidal tendencies.   It may be the case, for example, that gun owners live in communities that place a high value on self-reliance and personal security, and are thus less likely to seek help in times of distress.  If this is true, then it would complicate findings that show an association between suicide and gun ownership.

However, more recent analysis on this question found that higher rates of firearm ownership is positively associated with higher suicide rates, but there is no significant association between the firearm ownership rate and non-firearm suicide rates.  If it were the case that firearm owners are more likely to commit suicide, we should see a relationship between firearm ownership and suicides by other means, but we don’t.  This is true despite the fact that non-firearm methods like drugs and cutting constitute approximately 90% of all suicide attempts.

A 2012 follow-up study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology thoroughly repudiated the hypothesis put forth in the Duggan paper.  The paper finds there are at least five reasons to believe that the presence of firearms is driving the rate of suicide, and not the the other way around:

  1. The association between firearm availability and suicide is robust to adjustments for measures of psychopathology and aggregate-level measures of suicidality such as depression, mental illness, alcoholism, poverty, unemployment, and drug abuse.
  2. The risk of suicide extends beyond just the gun owner to all members of a household, and lasts for years after the firearm has been purchased.
  3. The rates of psychiatric illness and suicidal tendencies is similar in households with and without firearms across the United States.
  4. Multiple ecological studies have confirmed the results of individual-level studies.

  5. Suicide attempts are not significantly associated with firearm ownership rates.  If it were the case that gun owners had stronger suicidal proclivities than non-gun owners we would expect the suicide attempt rate to be positively associated with the firearm ownership rate, but it isn’t.  This means that the primary way through which firearms influence the suicide rate is by making each attempt comparatively more lethal than other methods.

The conclusion of the study is damning:

“The prevalence of household firearm ownership, which ranges from 10% to 66% across the 50 states, explains 67% of the variation in firearm suicide, 42% of the variation in overall suicide, and less than 2% of the variation in nonfirearm suicide. By contrast, suicide attempt rates, which range from 0.1% to 1.5%, explain less than 1% of the variation in rates of overall suicide, firearm suicide, and nonfirearm suicide. Indeed, suicide attempt rates are not significantly related to suicide mortality rates overall or by method, even in crude comparisons.”

The study adds that, even small decreases in the overall firearm ownership rate will have a large impact on the suicide rate.  For example, if 1% of the 22,000 people who attempted suicide in 2010 had instead substituted drugs or cutting, there would have been approximately 1,900 fewer suicide deaths.

Note also that although Duggan found that gun owners have stronger suicidal proclivities, he still posited that instrumentality effects influence the suicide rate.  That is, Duggan noticed that the male-to-female suicide rate was systematically determined by the rate of gun ownership in such a way that it was likely that guns are having an effect on suicides:

“…there is a positive relationship between the rate of gun ownership and the male/female suicide ratio.  The coefficient estimates…reveal that the suicide rates among males are more strongly related to the rate of gun ownership than are suicide rates among females.  Specifically, a 10 percent increase in gun ownership is associated with a 7.9 percent increase in the male suicide rate but only a 5.2 percent increase in the female suicide rate.  This difference is statistically significant…”

“Gun Control is a Band-Aid Solution”

“While gun-related violence is on a continual, steady decline, suicide deaths are being used, in part, because they are needed to ‘get the job done.’ People shout out for pity and compassion for the survivors of suicides in a call to infringe on the rights of lawful, peaceable gun owners in hopes, they say, of preventing future incidents of suicide…the gun grabbers are reaching, many of them deifying their lost loved ones before God and country as if, somehow, the dead person wasn’t responsible — that it was the “evil gun” that caused the act. And some people actually buy it, hook, line and sinker.” – Angel Shamaya

Our victim is on the ground bleeding.  He has just been shot in the head by a gang member, a bullet lodged firmly in his brain.  He is in agony, suffering the most excruciating pain of his life.  An emergency medical team is dispatched to the scene.  The victim, delirious with pain, begs for relief.  The EMT responds, “How would that solve anything?  Masking the pain or regulating blood flow won’t dislodge the bullet…”  The victim slurs a plea “does it not matter that I’m suffering?”  The EMT continues, “What we need is economic reform—we need to challenge the root causes behind gang violence to ensure this doesn’t happen again.  Otherwise, you’ll just end up back in the emergency room with another bullet in your head and that’s just more the taxpayers have to…” Before the EMT can finish, the victim flat-lines.

If this scenario sounds ridiculous, it’s because it is.  Obviously, it was the EMT’s responsibility to stop the pain, even if future gang violence is likely to land our victim back in the hospital. If there is an opportunity to efficiently and drastically reduce human suffering, then we have an obligation to pursue that opportunity.  We have no problem accepting the fact that the EMT’s obligation is to relieve pain, and yet, when it comes to gun violence, somehow our moral intuitions are severely handicapped— gun control legislation to reduce suicides is consistently refuted with the argument “we need to treat the root causes of suicide.”  How noble of these people to oppose exceedingly basic policy interventions, which can be implemented with relative ease, and that are already being run successfully virtually everywhere else in the developed world,  so that gun control can be staved off for a couple more generations.

The data above clearly show that extraordinary decreases in the total suicide rate can be affected by even small reductions in the firearm ownership rate.  Such efforts, then, are very clearly not a band-aid.  Even if they were, I’m not convinced that the phrase should have disparaging connotations—an incredibly cheap, effective step that minimizes pain and enables day-to-day functioning should be the first solution sought to any problem.

Further, the above data should make it clear that there is no ‘root-cause’ behind suicide—there are an inestimable number of unobserved variables that may influence suicidal ideation, which society, and often the suicidal individuals themselves, do not have conscious access to.  Impulsivity, almost definitionally, escapes prediction—we may not have the tools to challenge or understand the emergence of impulsiveness, but we can minimize its consequences.

There is nothing closer to an academic consensus in the gun reform debate than the argument that restricting access to firearms can drastically decrease the suicide rate.  If this is the case, why is there such little discussion about suicides in top-level policy debate?  The discussion always centers on homicides, mass shootings, crime, and so on, but never suicides.

I received a comment from a reader on an earlier post in which he refuted an entire section with the claim that “suicides don’t count.”  I suspect that, though it’s rarely stated this explicitly, this is how many people process suicide statistics.  Homicides are scary—it could be my life, after all, that someone else takes in a crowded theater.  But suicides are not newsworthy—they’re distant, routine; it’s somebody else’s brain that’s receives a bullet, not mine.

Discussion about suicide should be at the forefront of gun control debates, yet it is often a footnote in meaningful policy discussion.  There is a missing movement against suicide, and it reflects poorly on our nation’s priorities–it shows a cruel insensitivity to the value of human life, and a miscalibrated sense of morality which says that change is only worth having if it can benefit me.

About Evan DeFilippis

Evan DeFilippis graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a triple degree in Economics, Political Science, and Psychology. He wrote for the university's opinion page, and received an outstanding contributor award twice for his publications on student apathy. He was the University of Oklahoma's valedictorian in 2012, he is one of the nation's few Harry S. Truman Scholars based on his commitment to public service, and is a David L. Boren Critical Languages scholar, fluent in Swahili, and dedicated to a career in African development. He will be starting work as a Project Associate for Innovations for Poverty Action working on a project called the Kenya Life Survey Panel in September.

19 Comments

  1. Devin Hughes   October 25, 2013 7:22 pm / Reply

    We welcome all coherent, respectful comments. Since it is impossible to provide thoughtful commentary on something you haven’t bothered reading in full, comments where this is readily apparent will not be posted. We review all comments before they appear, so there will be a delay even if it meets the preceding criteria. Although we do not typically respond to comments and have no time to engage in prolonged debates, we will attempt to answer questions about our data or research.

  2. daniel   October 26, 2013 2:49 pm / Reply

    Statistics can be misleading. I notice you have volumes of statistics at your disposal. If I went to the heart of a large city and asked 5000 people their opinion on gun control / saving the whales / birth control etc., and went home and calculated the results I’d find (obviously) more people are against or for. However that is not an accurate means of accessing the true opinions of the intire city accurately. Similarly how can all your shown statistics be taken into consideration unless we research ALL known statistics on suicide. I know gun owners and am a gun owner and I have no thought of committing suicide merely because I own a gun. The FBI and all police agencies have statistics on the increase/decrease of violent crimes overall. In Los Angeles where I live I hear of and see violence on a regular basis, professionals can tell me all they want that violent crime is down based on statistics, ill be sure and tell my mugger or my home invasionist (just made that word up) that “STATISTICALLY” he shouldn’t be here! Many suicides occur while someone has only thought of it for five minutes or so and there not always premeditated. I believe I read that in this post, but isn’t premeditated the thought of an action prior to the action, be it 1 second or over the course of say 20 years? Its obvious you have an agenda of disarming the public, you imply for our own good but why don’t you tell us exactly WHO if anybody should have a gun?

  3. JVu   October 27, 2013 6:31 am / Reply

    There’s no denying that gun ownership rates and suicide rates are correlated. If reducing risk of suicide is the primary objective of any individual, movement or organization, reducing gun ownership would be a goal to pursue.

    However, based on the data you present, I would argue that reduction of gun ownership in pursuit of reducing suicide rates is not rational when we put number of adults with access to guns vs suicides based on Hemenway’s study.

    Alaska has a high gun ownership rate (among the highest in the USA) given its subsistence culture and a high seasonal depression rate due to its weather (specifically, lack of sunlight during winter and early spring). So, it’s no surprise Alaska has among the highest suicide rates in the USA. Based on data gathered from the census Bureau (http://quickfacts.census.gov/), the population adults in AK was >532,000 in 2010. Let’s say, based on Hemenway’s study, that 55% of adults in AK had access to a gun in the home, and that the overall suicide rate of 2010 is 24 per 100,000.

    Applying these rates and percentages to the population of that year shows >297,900 adults with access to guns and 127 suicides in all. Even if granting that ALL these suicides were firearm related, 0.04% of adults with access to guns commit suicide. Doing the same thing with New Jersey, having the lowest gun ownership rate and lowest suicide rate: adult population 6,769,758, 12% adults with access and a suicide rate of 8 per 100,000. It can be estimated that there are >812,300 adults with access to guns and 542 suicides, it would be estimated that 0.07% of adults with access to guns commit suicide (again, granting that all the suicides were firearm related).

    Based off these figures and that on the graph presented at the beginning of this essay. It’s can be suggested that less than 0.1% of US adults with access to guns commit suicide.

    But back to the main statement we can agree upon: reducing gun ownership will reduce suicides, I would like to address the social costs of reducing gun ownership.

    Granted that a gun will more likely be used tragically in accident, domestic violence or suicide rather than defensively against an intruder or assailant, some will conclude that those domestic tragedies are not the worst thing that can happen in the home. What’s worse to allow? A good person impulsively ending their life with a gun? Or a contributing member of a community getting their life destroyed* by an acquaintance or stranger where a gun may have helped prevent?

    While the differences in risk are difficult to quantify due to so many variables case by case, some people are willing to expose themselves to increased risk in order to protect themselves from what they feel is a worse scenario.

    A vast majority of adults with access to guns do not commit suicide, and some would believe there are fates worse than suicide and domestic homicide that a gun can help prevent from happening.

    *the meaning of “Destroyed” can vary here, but ultimately it’s about ending a person’s life(style) as they have built for themselves and/or want to keep. Cold blooded murder? Abduction? Rape? Any combination of the three? Again, while these may have a lower probability of happening as opposed to death by firearm in accident, suicide or domestic violence, some would accept that risk to prevent what the feel is a worse scenario.

    • JVu   October 27, 2013 6:50 am / Reply

      In addition to Gun Access vs. Suicide, my estimates were determined as if only adults with access to guns committed suicide with guns.

  4. freeballer   October 28, 2013 2:37 am / Reply

    I thought I knew quite a bit about firearm ownership -> suicide, but i learnt alot. I knew from my own country, Canada, suicide went down after our “bans” (and even though other methods were available). I don’t think I realized the extent, or how many studies were out there. It’ll take a while to read them…

    … It actually made me a little sad to think how many lives could be saved in america. I’m not sure if a lot of the gun advocates can/will understand unless someone they love commits suicide..

    • JVu   October 28, 2013 7:12 am / Reply

      Suicides are tragic, and I know they can have a traumatic effect on others. If the objective is to reduce suicide, reducing gun ownership would be a way to go.

      But to say gun advocates would understand if someone close committed suicide? Ouch. That hurts. Some people own (and have used) guns to protect themselves, because they feel their life (and sometimes the life of their family as well) is precious. People do take their own lives with guns, and people save themselves and others as well.

      Besides: At most, less than 1% of adults who have access to guns commit suicide.

      • freeballer   October 31, 2013 5:35 pm / Reply

        well, maybe you aren’t the same as most gun advocates I’ve talked to online. If I’ve insulted you I apologize.. I’ve heard this argument from a majority of the gun advocates I’ve debated online.. If its not their family/friends, they often show a lack of empathy. These fatalities become a casualty, in a fight for their freedom/2a right.

        Lets assume for a moment it is only 1% of those who have access.. There are relatively few safe locking laws in place to prevent such tragedies, and also accidental discharges..

        I personally have no problem with safe gun owners.. I actually own several. But the laws in america are insane!
        Statistically these suicide rates may be low, but they are easily preventable..

  5. Anthony   December 4, 2013 10:01 pm / Reply

    “A 2010 study by Mathieu Gagné and his colleagues ”

    This study has been proven to be very flawed by Dr. Langmann. Simply put the study included NO control variables. During the period where male suicides declined in Quebec (around 1996), unemployment rates dropped markedly. Quebec was also implementing a national suicide prevention program.

    Link to your study: http://injuryprevention.bmj.com/content/16/4/247.full.pdf

    Relevant part: http://i.imgur.com/4htU5E7.png

    Dr. Langmann explaining the flaws of Gagne’s study: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mha9JsHwvwA&t=41m4s (Watch until the 43:57 mark)

    In your own study hangings were actually shown to increase. So how on earth could you claim that it refutes the substitution hypothesis?

    Secondly your study regarding Austria: While firearm suicide rates did decline following gun legislation in 1997/1998. The OVERALL suicide rate did not change significantly. Ergo the firearm legislation had virtually no impact on the general suicide rate. Why would you exclude mentioning that?

    Finally studies looking at the effects of firearm legislation in Australia and suicide rates: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12882416

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18839044

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22551044

    Langmann’s study: http://jiv.sagepub.com/content/27/12/2303.short

    Finally the way Miller measures gun ownership is wonky, (I assume it’s GSS data). The Gallup data is more reliable because it factors in guns that are not stored in the house and in a shed, or a car for example.

    http://www.gallup.com/poll/150353/self-reported-gun-ownership-highest-1993.aspx

    Thus the GSS data actually underestimates gun ownership.

    • Evan DeFilippis   December 5, 2013 6:23 am / Reply

      Thank you for your thoughtful reply. It’s refreshing to research in a comment.

      Regarding the Mathieu Gagné study:
      –This should not be the focus of your critique. It is a weaker study compared to the ones mentioned earlier, and was only added to demonstrate the robustness of our conclusion. The domestic evidence is all exceedingly strong and has failed to receive adequate academic refutation.
      — Regarding the lack of control variables, this is partially accurate. It’s impossible to include control variables explicitly in a joinpoint analysis, but the method used shows that directly before and after the implementation of the C-17 policy in 1991 there was a drop in the firearm suicide rate. In order for your criticism to be strong, there needs to be an explanation for as to why the unemployment rate or the National Suicide Program (both of which post-dated the decline in firearm suicide rates) retroactively determined the systematic descent in firearm directly after the implementation of C-17.
      –Regarding hangings, there has been an increase in hangings over the last two decades throughout the world, irrespective of gun control laws. An investigation into this phenomenon is important, but it unlikely has to do with the substitution effect (because of the myriad of other studies cited above that disconfirm the substitution effect).

      The Austria Study:
      –The point is to show that it’s possible to reduce firearm-related suicide through legislation. Suicide by firearms has the highest ‘success’ rate and represents the greatest proportion of suicides, so it is the one legislation should be focused on reducing. Other programs should be implemented in tandem with firearm-restricting legislation like Quebec’s National Suicide Program in order to mitigate against the risk of the substitution effect.
      –The study mentions a curious point– if the substitution effect is to explain why the overall suicide rate did not decrease, then we should expect to see a concomitant rise in suicide by other means after the passage of Austrian gun legislation. However, the study found no such increase.

      Miller Study: “Gallup data is more reliable because it factors in guns that are not stored in the house and in a shed, or a car for example.”
      –I’m not sure if this is the case, but if so this reality could only help the argument that more guns –> more suicides. What matters is the household ownership rate, not the number of guns in each household– a suicidal person won’t need to go out of their way to find a gun in the shed, if one is lying around the house.

      Furthermore, if we found that, after ‘underestimating’ the total number of guns in each household, there was still a significant relationship between the existence of a firearm and suicide, then that relationship could only be augmented if we included guns in sheds and cars. It means we are potentially missing out on suicides that happened in households for which guns were only contained in sheds or cars.

  6. Anthony   December 5, 2013 6:52 am / Reply

    “Regarding the lack of control variables, this is partially accurate. It’s impossible to include control variables explicitly in a joinpoint analysis, but the method used shows that directly before and after the implementation of the C-17 policy in 1991 there was a drop in the firearm suicide rate. In order for your criticism to be strong, there needs to be an explanation for as to why the unemployment rate or the National Suicide Program (both of which post-dated the decline in firearm suicide rates) retroactively determined the systematic descent in firearm directly after the implementation of C-17.”

    Simple. Here is statscan data for Canadian suicide rates 1950 – 2008:

    http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-624-x/2012001/article/desc/11696-08-desc-eng.htm

    As you can see, the overall suicide rate actually increased after C-17 and did not began to drop significantly until the year 2000. So while C-17 might have had an impact on firearm suicides, the overall suicide rate remained virtually unchanged. Why?

    “The point is to show that it’s possible to reduce firearm-related suicide through legislation. Suicide by firearms has the highest ‘success’ rate”

    While this is true, the success rate between Firearms and Hanging is marginal.

    http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/suicide/statistics/case_fatality.html

    Firearms have approximately a case fatality rate of 83.6% Hangings have a case fatality rate of about 80%. I wouldn’t call a 3.6% difference significant.

    Regarding the Austria study, I am not disputing the fact that firearm suicides declined following legislation. I am pointing out the fact that while firearm suicides declined, the overall suicide remained unchanged. I cannot conclusively claim that the reason is because of the substitution effect. However that seems likely the likely contender.

    So we know for a fact that the Austrian overall suicide rate did not change significantly following legislation, same exact thing for the Canadian suicide rates following C-17.

    Here’s a study by FS Bridges: http://uwf.edu/hlsd/PR%20Gun%20Control%20Law%20Suicide%20Homicide%20Canada.pdf

    “Firearm suicide and homicide (the slopes of the regression lines were -0.188
    and – 0.04 1, respectively), the percentage of suicides using firearms (- 1.19),
    and the total rate of homicide in Canada and by all other methods (-0.088
    and -0.047, respectively) showed significant decreases. There were no significant changes in total rate of suicide”

    Again, Langmann summed it up best: Firearm suicides declined following legislation, however hangings increased. Thus the overall Canadian suicide rate remained virtually the same. The same exact thing happened in Austria, did it not?

    “Furthermore, if we found that, after ‘underestimating’ the total number of guns in each household, there was still a significant relationship between the existence of a firearm and suicide, then that relationship could only be augmented if we included guns in sheds and cars. It means we are potentially missing out on suicides that happened in households for which guns were only contained in sheds or cars.”

    Well not necessarily. The CDC reports all firearm suicides.

    What I was taking issue with is that Miller is implying that the suicide rate in the US is declining because gun ownership is declining using GSS data, however the GSS only asks if a gun is kept inside the home. Gallup asks if a gun is kept on the property. Not everybody who owns a gun stores it inside their house. Farmers for example might store it inside a barn or a shed. Thus one can expect a slight underestimation of gun ownership. If one uses the Gallup data, gun ownership remained relatively stable throughout the 2000’s. Around 40% to be precise with a few years acting as outliers.

    http://www.gallup.com/poll/1645/guns.aspx

  7. Kirk Parker   December 10, 2013 8:57 am / Reply

    There’s no denying that gun ownership rates and suicide rates are correlated.

    I’ll deny it. That statement certainly doesn’t hold true when comparing the US to Finland, Japan, or South Korea.

  8. Anthony William   January 12, 2014 4:33 pm / Reply

    You bring up a few bridge studies, but you curiously leave out a study on the “Luminous Veil” bridge barrier on the second most popular spots for suicides in North America. It was arguably the biggest and most important study regarding this sort of happenstance. I’d say it’s on par with the British gas suicide study.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2897976/

    What did the study find?

    Yes, the bridge barrier eliminated all suicides by jumping from the Bloor Viaduct Bridge, but people just found another bridge to jump off of. Thus the rates did not change.

    “Yearly rates of suicide by jumping in Toronto remained unchanged between the periods before and after the construction of a barrier at Bloor Street Viaduct (56.4 v 56.6, P=0.95). A mean of 9.3 suicides occurred annually at Bloor Street Viaduct before the barrier and none after the barrier (P<0.01). Yearly rates of suicide by jumping from other bridges and buildings were higher in the period after the barrier although only significant for other bridges (other bridges: 8.7 v 14.2, P=0.01; buildings: 38.5 v 42.7, P=0.32)."

    Pretty damning, huh?

    In fact the study had this to say about your studies that you linked in the OP: "Studies examining the introduction of suicide barriers at Memorial Bridge in Augusta, Maine15 and Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol, England16 as well as the introduction of a safety net at Muenster Terrace in Bern, Switzerland17 showed reductions in mean numbers of suicides of 0.6, 4.2, and 2.5 persons per year respectively at each location. Each article examined the change in rates of suicides by jumping from nearby bridges or buildings and concluded that little, if any, substitution of location occurred. However, these studies lacked statistical power because of the relatively small yearly decreases in numbers of suicides at each bridge as well as low rates of suicide in general. No study of a suicide prevention barrier has shown a statistically significant drop in overall rates of suicide in the vicinity."

    That's right. The Bristol study, Augusta study, and Bern study all didn't show overall significant decreases as well. In other words you lied when you claimed that the total suicide rates declined following these barriers.

    The substitution effect is a real thing. It has happened in Australia, New Zealand and Canada following gun control. Gun suicides dropped, other methods rose. This caused an offset the thus the overall suicide rates did not decline.

    The substitution effect is a real thing. It might not materialize in all cases, but it has materialized in more than enough.

    P.S: I love how you "debunk" one of Duggan's studies, but you end up using his "more guns = more homicides" study in a different post. I don't want to disappoint you guys, but that's already been debunked by Moody and Marvell.

    Here's the link (it's a PDF download): http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=473661

    "Duggan, therefore, overestimates the effect of guns on homicide, and underestimates the effect on homicide on guns, by a factor of 3. The estimated elasticity of guns with respect to homicide is actually greater than the elasticity of homicide with 5 respect to guns. However, given the standard errors involved, the implied elasticities are not significantly different from each other."

    The degree to which this blog goes to selectively cite certain studies while ignoring others is pathetic.

    • Evan DeFilippis   January 14, 2014 8:31 am / Reply

      So unnecessarily rude. Lower your voice and strengthen your argument.

      It’s not cherry picking if the world happens to be populated with mostly cherry trees. You consistently, in every single rebuttal, challenge the lowest hanging fruit included in our articles. If this continues to be your primary line of argumentation, we will stop responding to your claims, as doing so only lends credence to them.

      We provide a series of studies to support our claim, some happen to be better than others. Our arguments are not ‘pathetic’ because of the inclusion of some studies which are less sophisticated than others.

      The studies done by Miller and Hemenway are widely considered to be the most important, statistically robust studies on pretty much any topic related to gun control, and we have not received a single piece of commentary on these studies. Ironically, you have cherry-picked which studies you want to rebut, and it’s reflective of the strength of your argument.

      I am willing to make this concession: The substitution effect appears in some instances of gun control studies and suicide barrier studies, and it also doesn’t appear in a huge number of cases (see the massive Gun Database tab).

      We should be less focused on making totalizing claims as to whether or not the substitution effect does or doesn’t exist, and more focused on discovering the reasons why substitution effect is context-dependent.

      In the study you linked to regarding the “Luminous Veil” bridge, the author admits that perhaps the reason a substitution effect doesn’t exist in this instance is because that bridge wasn’t uniquely attractive enough to produce net decreases in suicide levels. I.E. it didn’t have enough symbolic importance in the minds of people are have suicidal tendencies. The Golden Gate bridge studies, which are statistically significant and robust to power criticisms, find no substitution effect.

      Further, the Sinyor and Levitt study you linked actually lacked the power to make claims about net decreases in suicide levels. They found that bridges around the Bloor Viaduct increased from 9 to 14 persons per year (this was statistically significant), but they failed to mention that bridge jumping overall decreased from 18 persons to 14 per year. They could not determine that this decrease was statistically significant because of the small number of suicides in the first place (Type II Error). This is partially a result of comparing 9 years pre-barrier with 4 year post-barrier and the fact that bridge-jumping accounts for only 6.3% of overall suicides. As a result, in order to find a statistically significant decrease in net suicides from bridge-jumping you would need a sample size is simply incongruent with reality.

      See the newest Miller study to respond to your claims are substitution effects re: suicide-

      “The study adds that, even small decreases in the overall firearm ownership rate will have a large impact on the suicide rate. For example, if 1% of the 22,000 people who attempted suicide in 2010 had instead substituted drugs or cutting, there would have been approximately 1,900 fewer suicide deaths.”

      • Anthony William   January 15, 2014 6:51 am / Reply

        >It’s not cherry picking if the world happens to be populated with mostly cherry trees. You consistently, in every single rebuttal, challenge the lowest hanging fruit included in our articles. If this continues to be your primary line of argumentation, we will stop responding to your claims, as doing so only lends credence to them.

        Lol. Your confirmation bias is showing.

        Don’t even pretend that this blog gives an objective view of gun control, when it doesn’t. You cherry-pick statistics that fit your viewpoints while neglecting all others.

        >The studies done by Miller and Hemenway are widely considered to be the most important, statistically robust studies on pretty much any topic related to gun control, and we have not received a single piece of commentary on these studies.

        You mean the Joyce Foundation funded studies by Hemenway and co.? Hemenway is hardly an objective researcher, he involves himself with the VPC, which is a special interests group. Almost all his studies involved funding by anti-gun organizations.

        I’ll address two Hemenway studies in a bit, first let me address the Miller study.

        I already gave a criticism of the Miller study, he uses GSS ownership data and compares it to suicide rates over a period of time. According to the GSS gun ownership declined to around an average of 34%, and suicides also dropped during that period. Miller therefore concludes that suicides dropped because of the declining gun ownership.

        However my beef is that Miller did not look at the Gallup data, which shows a significantly higher rate of gun ownership.

        http://www.gallup.com/poll/1645/guns.aspx

        Had Miller looked at gallup data in addition to the GSS data, he would have found that gun ownership reported by Gallup would not correlate with the declining suicide rate. Why didn’t Miller look at the Gallup data as well?

        Anyways let’s head onto some of Hemenway’s methodologically flawed studies. Here’s one: http://www.statistics.com/papers/Homicides_and_guns.pdf

        First off Hemenway reports that gun ownership amongst countries and overall homicide rates are significantly correlated, the problem is that he includes homicide rates for when Northern Ireland was in the midst of a civil war, heavily inflating the rates, Kuwait is included despite not being a first world country, and Israel is included despite Israel also being in a volatile region heavily marred by civil war and strife by neighboring areas such as the Palestinian territories. Terrorist attacks are common in Israel as well. Thus one can see why Israel would have a high homicide rate as a result.

        The way Hemenway measures gun ownership using a proxy is problematic.

        For instance Israel has a “gun availability” rate of 26.1, while Germany has a rate of 7.5. According to the small arms survey however, Germany has 30.3 guns per 100 people, while Israel has a measly rate of 7.3.

        Furthermore the homicide rates for England and Wales, and Taiwan are both wrong.

        In 1992, England and Wales had a homicide rate of 11.4 per one million people, that would correspond to rate of 1.14 homicides per 100,000 people. Not 0.55 as Hemenway’s data incorrectly indicates.

        https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/116483/hosb0212.pdf Page 32.

        He also gets the homicide rates for Taiwan wrong. He reports that there were 1.78 homicides in Taiwan in 1994. In reality, according to police statistics the homicide rate in Taiwan during 1994 was a staggering 7.15 per 100,000 people.

        http://www.npa.gov.tw/NPAGip/wSite/ct?xItem=30120&ctNode=11500&mp=4 (PDF or XLS download)

        http://www.unodc.org/documents/data-and-analysis/statistics/crime/Homicide_statistics2013.xls (homicide rates for a multitude of countries 1995 and beyond, take a look at Taiwan’s rate)

        Had he gotten Taiwan’s rate accurate, the association would be non-significant. He completely gotten Taiwan’s homicide rate incorrect.

        On the contrast, the Killias study in 2001 looked at multiple years over a trending time, included countries that were actually developed and comparable to each other, , and looked at overall homicide rates with outliers included (US, Northern Ireland) and without outliers.

        Furthermore he gathered gun ownership data by the usage of a survey, which would be far more accurate than using a proxy.

        The result? Gun ownership amongst countries was not correlated with overall homicide rates, even when the US and Northern Ireland were included, or not.

        Link to study: https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&pid=sites&srcid=ZGVmYXVsdGRvbWFpbnxqb2hudmtlc3RlcmVufGd4OjdhMDY5NThiZDdiM2U4NTY

        Take a look at the table in page 8. No significant correlations are to be observed.

        The next study by Hemenway I have an issue with is his latest JAMA study examining gun laws (ranked by points in the Brady scoreboard) and gun suicides and gun homicides.

        Link to study: http://archinte.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1661390

        So right off the bat, the abstract claims that states with the most gun laws had “lower firearm homicide rate (absolute rate difference, 0.40 deaths/100 000/y; IRR, 0.60; 95% CI, 0.38-0.95).”

        Sounds alright, let’s take a look at the data. That would be table two.

        Link: http://archinte.jamanetwork.com/data/Journals/INTEMED/926956/ioi130037t2.png

        I see a glaring problem from the get-go. Firearm homicide rates are not available for New Hampshire, Vermont, and North Dakota. Hemenway claims that this is because the mean rate was not available from the CDC. I suspect that he excluded the data for these states because if he did, there wouldn’t be a significant correlation between gun homicides and fewer gun laws by state.

        Let’s see if that’s the case, shall we? The FBI UCR for 2009 provides information about homicides for all states, include what weaponry was used and how many deaths were caused.

        Link to states by murder weapons: http://www2.fbi.gov/ucr/cius2009/data/table_20.html

        North Dakota had three firearm homicides in 2009.

        Vermont had zero firearms homicides in 2009. So we’ll use data for 2008 during which it had eight.

        http://www2.fbi.gov/ucr/cius2008/data/table_20.html For Vermont.

        New Hampshire had four firearm homicides in 2009.

        Let’s calculate the rates:

        Population for US states: http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2009/crime2009

        New Hampshire population: 1,324,575

        1,324,575 / 100,000 = 13.24575

        4 / 13.24575 = 0.3

        0.3 firearm homicides per 100,000 for New Hampshire.

        Vermont population in 2008: 621,049

        621,049 / 100,000 = 6.21049

        8 / 6.21049 = 1.2

        1.2 firearm homicides in Vermont per 100,000

        North Dakota population: 646,844

        646,844 / 100,000 = 6.46844

        3 / 6.46844 = 0.4

        0.4 firearm homicides per 100,000 in North Dakota.

        Had Hemenway not deliberately selectively used data, and included firearm homicide rates for North Dakota, Vermont, and New Hampshire. It’s extremely likely that there wouldn’t be a correlation with the Brady laws and firearm homicides.

        But considering that Hemenway and the Harvard folk are infallible, they get a free pass.

        >The Golden Gate bridge studies, which are statistically significant and robust to power criticisms, find no substitution effect.

        So how come overall suicide rates did not decline following the bridge barriers in those studies?

        >I am willing to make this concession: The substitution effect appears in some instances of gun control studies and suicide barrier studies, and it also doesn’t appear in a huge number of cases (see the massive Gun Database tab).

        No, it happens in more cases than you believe.

        This is what the Viaduct study had to say regarding the studies you linked:

        “Each article examined the change in rates of suicides by jumping from nearby bridges or buildings and concluded that little, if any, substitution of location occurred. However, these studies lacked statistical power because of the relatively small yearly decreases in numbers of suicides at each bridge as well as low rates of suicide in general. No study of a suicide prevention barrier has shown a statistically significant drop in overall rates of suicide in the vicinity.”

        Did overall suicides decline significantly in Augusta, Maine, Bern, Switzerland and Bristol. England following the bridge barriers? Or did jumping suicides only decline? If overall suicide rates did not decline significantly that would imply a certain degree of substitution offsetting the suicide by jumping decline,. even if the studies didn’t observe such an effect.

        Regardless here are the places where the substitution effect was observed following gun control, thus the overall rates did not change significantly:

        Australia: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12882416 and http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18839044

        Canada: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15850034 and the FS Bridges study previously linked here.

        New Zealand: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16476153

        Also Austria as evidenced by your study because overall suicides did not change significantly. Only gun suicides declined.

        Lastly, the viaduct bridge may not hold as big of a cultural impact as the golden gate bridge, but it was the second most popular bridge to commit suicide off of in North America. What happened is that the jumpers just found another bridge to jump off of and thus overall suicide rates or jumping suicide rates did not decline.

        >“The study adds that, even small decreases in the overall firearm ownership rate will have a large impact on the suicide rate. For example, if 1% of the 22,000 people who attempted suicide in 2010 had instead substituted drugs or cutting, there would have been approximately 1,900 fewer suicide deaths.”

        Who’s to say that hanging won’t increase rapidly instead? Hanging is the fastest-growing suicide method according to the CDC.

        http://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2013/p0502-suicide-rates.html

        “Suicide rates increased 81 percent for hanging/suffocation, compared to 14 percent for firearm and 24 percent for poisoning.”

        According to the CDC, the case fatality rate between firearms and hanging is marginal.

        http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/suicide/statistics/case_fatality.html

        Lastly:

        “The removal of a suicide barrier on Grafton Bridge in Auckland, New Zealand was associated with a significant increase in suicides.22 However, suicides by jumping from other locations decreased by the same number, resulting in an unchanged total rate of suicide by jumping.22 That barriers on bridges would be effective was suggested by studies carried out in San Francisco; however, these studies were of people who had either jumped from Golden Gate Bridge and survived12 or contemplated suicide or made a suicidal gesture at the bridge that came to the attention of the police or were brought to a hospital.13 These two groups may be qualitatively different from people who have been prevented from jumping at a location as a result of a physical barrier. “

  9. William Ashbless   January 21, 2014 3:52 pm / Reply

    What gun control measures would actually be feasible to prevent suicide?
    Waiting periods?
    registration?
    secure lockup when not in use?
    Regulating ammo capacity?
    The only way to keep people from killing themselves with a gun is to remove them. Is that what you advocate?

  10. Wade Craig   March 6, 2014 6:27 am / Reply

    It’s unclear to me that preventing suicide is a legitimate reason for controlling what others do with their property. If we recognize that a person has a right to live or die at their will (negation of which implies we live and die at the will of the state) then someone else’s decision to kill themself does not give us reason to use force against them. Even if we claim that the actor is being irrational (to the point that restraining them with force is legitimate) it certainly wouldn’t justify controlling other, uninvolved people’s property.

    • Evan DeFilippis   March 6, 2014 9:21 am / Reply

      I don’t subscribe to rights-based frameworks. I think they are a goofy and antiquated way to adjudicate ethical disputes, as do the majority of ethicists. There’s no meaningful way to delineate between forms of behavior that should or should not be classified as a right, and it’s even more impossible to say which, of two competing rights, should be prioritized. If you say have the right to smoke a cigarette in public, and I say I have the right to clean air; how do we determine which right trumps? I’m a utilitarian. I care about maximizing future expected utility. One strategy to do this is by regulating (not removing) guns so that people are not vulnerable to momentary lapses in their own judgment.

      • Wade Craig   March 6, 2014 6:02 pm / Reply

        The opinion of most ethicists doesn’t matter for the substance of the argument, and really says nothing about the veracity of the argument given that throughout history most philosophers have been very wrong about something. Furthermore, utilitarianism is very hotly debated.

        Libertarian rights theorists have a pretty clear, delineated theory. All rights must extend from self-ownership, which is fundamentally the right to self-defense. There can be no other right because any other would involve using force against someone who has a right to self-defense.

        Utilitarian theories also lead to some quite nasty conclusions, yes? There’s seemingly nothing wrong with any terrible act if it’s a means to others’ utility.

        Still, utilitarianism doesn’t necessarily justify gun control in the case of suicides. In Mill’s On Liberty he argues that using force against someone is illegitimate if only done for that person’s benefit.

  11. wxman40   April 1, 2014 4:16 am / Reply

    To make the analysis a bit more complete and comprehensive, let’s take those areas with the high suicide rates and high firearms ownership and apply a few other factors such as access to mental health, regional cultural views on suicide and the rates of educational success. To ignore these factors in analyzing the raw data is the same fallacy that cancer clusters fell into and was easily assailed/debunked.

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