WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Suicide rates among people of all ages are higher in states where more homes have guns, U.S. researchers reported on Tuesday.
Twice as many people committed suicide in the 15 states with the highest levels of household gun ownership, compared with the six states with the lowest levels, even though the population in all the states was about the same, the researchers found.
“We found that where there are more guns, there are more suicides,” said Matthew Miller of the Harvard School of Public Health, who led the study.
While just 5 percent of all suicide attempts involve a gun, the person succeeds in killing himself or herself 90 percent of the time.
People use drugs to attempt suicide in 75 percent of cases, but actually die less than 3 percent of the time, the researchers said, citing other surveys.
The study, published in the Journal of Trauma, suggests that removing guns from homes, particularly those with adolescents, would have a big impact on suicide prevention.
“In a nation where more than half of all suicides are gun suicides and where more than one in three homes have firearms, one cannot talk about suicide without talking about guns,” Miller said in a statement.
Suicide is the 11th-leading cause of death among Americans, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2004, more than half of the 32,439 Americans who committed suicide used a firearm.
Miller and colleagues used survey data to estimate the percentage of people who kept guns in their homes in each of the 50 states. They looked at a survey of 200,000 people done by the CDC in 2001, which found that about a third of U.S. households reported having a gun.
They took into account poverty, urbanization, unemployment, drug and alcohol dependence and abuse, and mental illness, and calculated the relationship of gun ownership to suicide.
“Removing all firearms from one’s home is one of the most effective and straightforward steps that household decision-makers can take to reduce the risk of suicide,” Miller said.
“Removing firearms may be especially effective in reducing the risk of suicide among adolescents and other potentially impulsive members of their home,” Miller added.
“Short of removing all firearms, the next best thing is to make sure that all guns in homes are very securely locked up and stored separately from secured ammunition,” he said.
The same team found in February that guns are used to kill two out of every three murder victims in the United States.