Reporter's Notebook

The Impact of Guns on Suicide
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Readers discuss and debate the issue. To join in, email

Show 5 Newer Notes

Why Don't Gun Control Advocates Talk More About Suicides? Cont'd

Dylan Matthews voxplains the topic of suicide by gunfire and compares guns to “pollutants in your house”:

A reader responds to the question posed in the previous note:

The most relevant question for efficacy of gun control as it relates to suicide, is whether or not decreased presence of guns (gun control) reduce just the firearm suicide rate, or whether they reduce the suicide rate overall. If it reduces the overall rate, you can make a serious argument for gun control as a public health measure in terms of suicide, but if it shifts suicide to another method other than guns, I think that the case would be weakened.

It is well known that most suicide attempts fail. From the data I've seen, it is somewhere between 25 and 33 attempts per suicide. At first thought, this would seem like that if you remove access to guns, you will get a substantially lower number of suicides, as suicide by firearm has a high rate of success. So the question is, if you remove access to firearms, do people go to less lethal avenues of suicide, or do they seek out equivalently lethal methods?  I could not find anything on this subject.

Overall though, the U.S does not have an especially high rate of suicide, and it has stayed relatively consistent since the 1960s. The rates in Australia—which has strict gun control—appear have gone down, but it seems to be more of a post 2000 phenomenon, rather than post 1996— the year the country’s buyback policy began:

World Health Organization

I’d love to see a good study on whether total suicides have gone down in the aftermath of serious gun control legislation, but I’ve yet to find it. The data seems to be pretty inconclusive, but I could certainly be missing a lot.

Drop us an email if you know of any data along these lines. A medical doctor questions gun control even further:

Hello! And thanks for the thread, which I’ve now been following for several days. I’m writing in response to one of your reader’s comments:

Olga Khazan

A reader, Amit Routh, pivots from the debate over the contemporary relevance of the Second Amendment:

Thanks for the hard work curating such an excellent discussion!

It is surprising just how little attention, from both gun control advocates and gun rights advocates, is paid to the fact that while the majority of Americans choose to own guns for personal safety and protection, their reasoning doesn’t match up with the reality of guns in America. This is the dismal trinity of firearms epidemiology: