Access to Firearms Increases Both Suicides and Homicides

A new analysis of more than a dozen previously published studies finds that a person with access to firearms is three times more likely to commit suicide and nearly twice as likely to be the victim of a homicide as someone who does not have access to guns, according to researchers at UC San Francisco (UCSF.)

The researchers say they found very striking gender differences in the data they reviewed. “Our analysis shows that having access to firearms is a significant risk factor for men committing suicide and for women being victims of homicide,” said Andrew Anglemyer, Ph.D., MPH, the lead author of the new review and a research specialist at the UCSF School of Pharmacy.

Anglemyer says the new review is significant because “we live in a country with the highest rates of suicide by firearm, and among high income countries we have the highest rates of homicide by firearm So, it’s quite important for us to understand the true risks of having a firearm within our own home in terms of suicide and homicide victimization.”

Anglemyer says he and his coauthors conducted the study because “there seems to be conflicting reports about the safety of a firearm in a person’s home. Some people might suggest that they’re safer with the gun, while others might suggest otherwise…as an epidemiologist I want to understand the full body of available literature to make an evidence-based decision.”

Impulsivity seems to be a major player here, says Anglemyer, who adds that it’s important to realize that most of the studies he and his colleagues reviewed controlled for a history of mental illnesses, which means that the risk of suicide was independent of any history of mental illness in most cases. “Assuming impulsivity is the driving force…,” said Anglemyer, “what we’re seeing is some people are sometimes making very bad, impulsive decisions [and] the ramifications of those decisions are obviously deadly.”

Anglemyer says he and the co-authors are not making “any assertions about limiting gun access. We will allow law makers and policy makers to decide on what is a reasonable approach to addressing this issue.”

But he added that in terms of private homes, “our evidence can only help people make informed decisions about whether a firearm is right for them. If there are members in a particular household who are depressed or if there is a volatile relationship, easy access to a firearm could be potentially dangerous.”

The study was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

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