Analysis: Firearm Suicide Rates Are On the Rise
FIREARM SUICIDE IS ON THE RISE — PARTICULARLY AMONG CHILDREN OF COLOR.
Over the past decade, youth firearm suicide rates increased by 57%.
The largest share of gun deaths are ones we do not talk about: firearm suicide. Everyday, 67 people die by firearm suicide — including two of whom are under 18 years old. More than half of annual gun deaths are gun suicides and firearms are by far the most lethal method of suicide. About 90% of people who attempt suicide with a firearm do not survive.
Historically, older white men have accounted for the largest share of firearm suicide deaths. While this remains true today, the population of firearm suicide deaths is quickly diversifying. Previous research indicates an increase in suicide among teenagers of color. An analysis from The Trace found that between 2019-2021, a teenager in the U.S. used a firearm to take their own life every seven hours.
In this analysis, we examine the growth of firearm suicide rates across the U.S. and the demographic groups that have experienced the largest rate increases over the past decade (2012-2021) using available Centers for Disease Control (CDC) data available through their WISQARS database.
This analysis specifically focuses on racial and ethnic background, age group, geographical region, and rurality. We considered the variability in firearm suicide rate increases between children — defined as those aged 0-17 years — and adults — defined as those 18 years and older. Additionally, we focused on the rates of growth across racial and demographic groups using available CDC data, which includes non-Hispanic white, non-Hispanic Black, Hispanic/Latino, Asian, and American Indian/Alaskan Native. Geographical regions are defined as the Northeast, the South, the Midwest, and the West. Finally, rurality is defined as a metropolitan area or non-metropolitan area.
FIREARM SUICIDE RATES ACROSS THE U.S. INCREASED BY 14% OVER THE PAST DECADE.
Firearm suicide increased throughout the entire U.S. over the past decade. Across all people in the U.S., the firearm largest suicide rate increases were observed in the Midwest and rural communities. Meanwhile, the lowest suicide rate increases were seen in the Northeast and metropolitan areas.
While firearm suicide rates are increasing among adults (ages 18+), the growth seen among children (ages 0-17) is far higher. Over the past decade, the firearm suicide rate among children in the U.S. increased by 57%. Meanwhile, the firearm suicide rate among adults increased by only 12%.
Across all age groups, people of color had the largest increases in gun suicide rates.
Across racial demographics and age groups, non-Hispanic Black children had the largest increase in firearm suicide rates than any other group. Over the past decade, non-Hispanic Black youth have experienced a 183% increase in their firearm suicide rate. At the same time, non-Hispanic white children have experienced a 42% increase in gun suicides.
The growth of gun suicide rates among people of color indicates that the population of those who die by firearm suicide is racially diversifying. Although rates among non-Hispanic white remain the highest during the analysis period, the gaps between the rates are shrinking – especially among children.
Between 2012-2013, non-Hispanic white children were more than three and four times more likely to die by gun suicide than their non-Hispanic Black children and Hispanic children, respectively. At the end of the analysis period, non-Hispanic white children were only 1.5 times more likely to die by firearm suicide, cutting the greater likelihood in half.
Firearm suicide rates increased the most in the Midwest over the past decade, but Southern states continued to have the highest rates of gun suicide.
* “–” indicates a suppressed value. When the number of deaths is between zero and nine, the CDC WISQARS system does not show the value, which means rate comparisons are not possible. ** Geographic regions are determined by the four CDC geographic regions.
The firearm suicide rate in the Midwest across all age groups increased by 40% over the past decade, which is a larger increase than any other geographic region. This trend was mirrored across all racial demographic groups with the exception of American Indian/Alaskan Native people; in which Southern states had the highest rate increase.
Children in Southern states had the greatest increases in firearm suicide rates over the past decade, followed by children living in Western states.
Among U.S. youth, the gun suicide rate in the South increased by 60% over the past decade. The next highest increase was seen in the West (+59%). The South continued to have the largest increases in gun suicide rates among non-Hispanic white (+50%) and non-Hispanic Black (+216%) children. However, among Hispanic children, the largest rate increase was observed in the West (+166%).
* “–” indicates a suppressed value. When the number of deaths is between zero and nine, the CDC WISQARS system does not show the value, which means rate comparisons are not possible.** Demographic regions are determined by the four CDC geographic regions.
What remains consistent across all children is that firearm suicide rates remain consistently low in the Northeast, a region with robust gun laws. Two-thirds of Northeastern states have extreme risk laws and 78% of states in the region have child access prevention (CAP) laws, both of which are proven to reduce rates of gun suicide.
Children of color living in our nation’s cities experienced greater increases in the rate of firearm suicide than those living in rural and suburban areas.
While non-Hispanic white children living in rural and suburban areas experienced higher increases in firearm suicide rates than those living in urban areas, children of color living in U.S. cities had larger increases in firearm suicide rates than those living in rural and suburban areas.
* “–” indicates a suppressed value. When the number of deaths is between zero and nine, the CDC WISQARS system does not show the value, which means rate comparisons are not possible.
This trend is also seen among non-Hispanic Black and Hispanic adults. Among these groups, firearm suicide rates among those living in metropolitan areas experienced a 62% and 45% increase, respectively. Meanwhile, non-Hispanic Black and Hispanic adults living in non-metropolitan areas had a 49%and 21% increase during the analysis period.
Increasing rates of firearm suicide among populations of color emphasizes the need for increased access to mental health services, public education on safe firearm storage, and education around extreme risk protection orders.
While the South continues to experience the highest rates of gun suicide across the country, the increasing rates in the Midwest indicate that the population of those who die by firearm is diversifying into other geographic regions. This change highlights the need for greater emphasis to be placed on firearm suicide prevention efforts in the Midwest.
A recent survey found nearly 65% of gun owners have at least one unlocked firearm, allowing children and others access to them, too often with deadly results. Easy access to firearms increases the risk of suicide by threefold. Policies that prevent easy access – like extreme risk laws and safe storage laws – to firearms greatly reduces the risk of firearm suicide. Research shows that even if 20% more parents implemented safe storage, youth suicide rates will be reduced up to 32%.
This can be done through Public Service Announcements (PSAs) like Brady’s End Family Fire program. Through a partnership between Brady the Ad Council, End Family Fire works to promote safe gun storage in the home. According to an Ad Council study, 74% of respondents who are aware of the End Family Fire's gun suicide prevention PSAs agree that storing all of their guns locked and unloaded reduces the risk of someone dying by suicide in their home, compared to 56% of those not aware. Through educational campaigns and commonsense policies aimed at curbing rates of firearm suicide, the growing gun suicide rates across the U.S. can be reduced.