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Buying a Handgun Significantly Increases Risk of Suicide

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He says that similar examples can be seen in New York, where handguns have always been tightly controlled and where handgun suicides are low, or in Washington, D.C., where handgun controls were instituted in the 1970s. "Gun suicide went down 25% and suicide by other methods didn't go up," he says.

Wintemute also says other suicide methods are unlikely to replace gun suicide because "guns are easier than other methods. It is easier to get a gun than it is to get pharmaceuticals in lethal quantities. ... It takes skill to hang one's self, using a gun is over quicker, a jumper may have time to contemplate. The fact is that about 10% of suicide attempts with pharmaceuticals are fatal; when you use a firearm more than 90% are fatal. It just reverses the ratio."

In an editorial accompanying the article, Mark L. Rosenberg MD, MPP, of the Collaborative Center for Child Well-being in Decatur, Georgia; James A. Mercy, PhD, of the Medical College of Wisconsin at Milwaukee; and Lloyd B. Potter, PhD, MPH, of the CDC, write that it is "no longer a question of whether we should apply science to the problem of firearm-related injuries, but how we should do so in the effort to prevent such injuries."

Robert K. Musil, PhD, executive director of Physician for Social Responsibility (PSR), says PSR has "known for a long time that in terms of gun violence the largest number of deaths are from suicide by firearm, not homicide." Musil tells WebMD that even in 1993, when death from guns used in crime hit an all time high, the number of deaths from gun suicide were higher.

PSR is supporting a new national gun buy back bill scheduled expected to be introduced Wednesday by Illinois Democratic Sen. Richard Durbin.

Musil says that PSR wants "the gun debate framed as a public health issue, not as a crime issue. In our view, keeping guns out of homes is a key element in reducing the risk of gun death or injury."

PSR recently supported a gun buy back program in Washington, D.C., that Musil says resulted in 3,000 guns being turned in. "We hope to replicate this program nationally." He says that guns acquired in the PSR-sponsored buy back were destroyed and persons who turned in guns were given coupons for services, not money. "An early criticism of gun buy backs was that the money was used to buy new weapons."

Vital Information:

  • In terms of gun violence, suicide, not homicide, is the leading cause of death.
  • During the first year of handgun ownership, suicide is the leading cause of death, an association that is even more pronounced in women.
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