Academic Studies on Adult and Youth Firearm Suicides

On average, around 600 Tennesseans use a gun to take their life every year.  That’s 50 people per month, more than one per day.  Many of those who take their own life with a firearm are children.  Youth and adult firearm suicides are unique in both their impulsivity and their lethality. Pulling a trigger take very little planning and there is no time to reconsider the decision. Studies show that the vast majority of people who attempt suicide but survive do not attempt suicide again and that many make the decision to take their own lives in just hours or even minutes before doing so.

In most cases, a juvenile who uses a gun to commit suicide uses an unsecured, accessible gun in their home.  Not only does safe storage reduce the number of unintentional shootings of children, it also reduces the number of children who will use a gun to kill themselves.

Below are a number of academic research studies and publications related to juvenile firearm suicides.

Youth Suicide and Access to Guns – Editorial
Frederick P. Rivara, M.D., M.P.H
Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics (2015)
Key findings: Access to firearms appears to be a strong risk fact or suicide, especially among youth. Safe storage of guns can reduce risk of misuse, including suicide, for adolescents.  Trigger locks and or gun lockboxes or safes can reduce youth firearm suicide and unintentional firearm injuries by as much as 70%, according to research.

Psychiatric Comorbidity, Suicidality, and In-Home Firearm Access Among a Nationally Representative Sample of Adolescents
Joseph A. Simonetti, MD, MPH; Jessica L. Mackelprang, PhD; Ali Rowhani-Rahbar, MD, MPH, PhD; et al
Journal of the American Medical Association Psychiatry (2015)
Key findings: Adolescents with risk factors for suicide were just as likely to report in-home firearm access as those without such risk factors. Given that firearms are the second most common means of suicide among adolescents, further attention to developing and implementing evidence-based strategies to decrease firearm access in this age group is warranted.

Firearm Access Documentation in High Risk Clinical Situations
Eric Sigel, M.D.
Journal of Adolescent Health (2014)
Key findings: Despite the prevalence of mental health diagnosis and violence risk in this adolescent population, providers are largely not documenting youth access to firearms. Missed opportunities to counsel parents and youth about the risk of firearms in high risk situations can lead to potentially devastating consequences. Ways to document access to firearms needs to be improved.

Gun Storage Practices and Risk of Youth Suicide and Unintentional Firearm Injuries
Grossman D; Mueller BA; Riedy C; Dowd MD; Villaveces A; Prodzinski J; Nakagawara J; Howard J; Thiersch N; Harruff R.
Journal of the American Medical Association (2005)
Key findings: The 4 practices of keeping a gun locked, unloaded, storing ammunition locked, and in a separate location are each associated with a protective effect and suggest a feasible strategy to reduce these types of injuries in homes with children and teenagers where guns are stored.

Association Between Youth-focused Firearm Laws and Youth Suicides
Daniel W. Webster, ScD, MPH; Jon S. Vernick, JD, MPH; April M. Zeoli, MPH; Jennifer A. Manganello, PhD, MPH
Journal of the American Medical Association (2004)
Key findings: There is evidence that CAP laws are associated with a modest reduction in suicide rates among youth aged 14 to 17 years.

Below are a number of academic research studies and publication related to adult firearm suicides.

Implementation of Effectiveness of Connecticut’s Risk-Based Gun Removal Law: Does it Prevent Suicides?
Jeffery Swanson, PhD; Michael A. Norko, MD, MAR; Hsui-Ju Lin, PhD; Kelly Alanis-Hirsch, PhD; Linda K. Frisman, PhD; Madelon V. Baroniski, PhD, MSN; Michele M. Easter, PhD; Allison G. Robertson, PhD, MPH; Marvin S. Swartz, MD; Richard J. Bonnie, LLB
Duke Law School Law and Contemporary Problems (2016)
Key findings: Potential changes to the law, such as allowing police to remove guns immediately with probable cause (as is the case in domestic violence situations), could streamline the process and make it easier for police to take preventive action when appropriate. Risk-based gun removal laws, even as currently implemented in Connecticut, can be at least modestly effective in preventing suicide. Expanded police training in the features of such a law and police protocols for safely removing guns from persons at risk of harm to self or others might further enhance the law’s utility and public safety benefit.

Preventing the invisible plague of firearm suicide
Carol W. Runyan; Talia Brown; Ashley Brooks-Russell
American Journal of Orthopsychiatry (2015)
Key findings: There is a well-researched and clear connection between access to firearms in the home and an increased risk of firearm suicide of a family member. Additionally, it has long been demonstrated that states and cities with fewer guns have fewer suicides. Consequently, to move forward in preventing firearm suicides, we must first overcome the lack of understanding and find effective and socially and politically acceptable preventive interventions.

Reducing a Suicidal Person’s Access to Lethal Means of Suicide: A Research Agenda
Catherine W.Barber MPA; Matthew J.Miller MD, ScD
American Journal of Preventive Medicine (2014)
Key findings: In the U.S., where 51% of suicides are completed with firearms and household firearm ownership is common and likely to remain so, reducing a suicidal person’s access to firearms will usually be accomplished not by fiat or other legislative initiative but rather by appealing to individual decision, for example, by counseling at-risk people and their families to temporarily store household firearms away from home or otherwise making household firearms inaccessible to the at-risk person until they have recovered.

Guns, Suicide, and Homicide: Individual-Level Versus Population-Level Studies
David Hemenway, PhD
Annals of Internal Medicine (2014)
Key findings: 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. Evidence also indicates that a 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. 

Firearms and Suicide in the United States: Is Risk Independent of Underlying Suicidal Behavior?
Matthew Miller; Catherine Barber; Richard A. White; Deborah Azrael
American Journal of Epidemiology (2013)
Key findings: A strong association between household firearm prevalence and suicide by firearms (but not by other methods)—is likely to reflect associations observable at the individual level because findings from individual-level studies indicate that the majority of suicides by firearms occur in the decedents’ homes and involve firearms owned by the victims or other members of the households.

Additional reading on firearm suicides and policies that can reduce them:

Suicide-By-Firearm Rates Shift in Two States After Changes in State Gun Laws
John Hopkins School of Public Health

Gun Suicides Plummet in State After New Licensing Law, Skyrocket After Law Repealed in Other State

Study shows Connecticut temporary gun removal law lowers suicide risk
Duke University Chronicle

Guns & Suicide: The Hidden Toll
Harvard Public Health Magazine

Guns and Suicide: A Fatal Link
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Suicide, Guns, and Public Policy
American Journal of Public Health