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New Stanford Study Shows that Handgun Ownership Correlates to Higher Risk of Death by Suicide

The study is the largest of its kind, following 26.3 million men and women in California for 12 years

Washington, D.C., June 4, 2020 - Yesterday, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that handgun ownership is associated with a higher risk of suicide by firearm. The study, conducted by Stanford and led by Stanford professor of medicine at Stanford Health Policy and of law at Stanford Law School David Studdert, LLB, ScD, MPH, is the largest of its kind, following over 26 million Californians for over 12 years.

This study shows what many have known for years, that suicide attempts often occur during temporary moments of crisis and that the presence of a firearm is more likely turn these moments into permanent tragedies. Tellingly, this study also shows us that “the risk of suicide by firearm among handgun owners peaked immediately after the first acquisition,” pointing to a need for more research into and policy solutions for firearm acquisition during periods of personal crisis.

Brady Vice President of Programs Kyleanne Hunter shared:

“This study corroborates the myriad, smaller-scale studies that show access to a firearm substantially increases the risk of a fatal outcome in a suicide attempt. In 2018, there were 24,432 suicides by gun in the United States. That is over 24,000 families across the country who have lost a loved one. It is vital to recognize the human cost of this crisis.

The method used in a suicide attempt greatly depends on its availability during a crisis, and the risk of a suicide fatality is significantly higher when a firearm is easily accessible in the home. Firearms are the most lethal means of suicide - a reality reflected in the study’s findings that men who owned handguns had a suicide rate three times as high as nonowners and women who owned handguns had a suicide rate seven times as high as nonowners. These elevated rates were driven by much higher rates of gun suicide among handgun owners: Men who owned handguns had a gun suicide rate eight times greater than male nonowners and women owners had a gun suicide rate 35 times greater than female nonowners. Given the surge in gun sales during the coronavirus pandemic, we should be acutely aware of this connection.

There are many policies and laws to address this issue at the point of sale and, as part of Brady’s work to improve gun dealer business practices, we encourage dealers to educate themselves on their role in preventing gun suicide and to educate their customers about suicide risks.

A vital component in this effort is ensuring that weapons are stored safely in the home — unloaded and locked with ammunition stored separately. When a firearm is in the home, creating this barrier can buy the individual critical time to seek help. We know that safe gun storage saves lives and is an essential part of suicide prevention. Suicide, which is part of family fire, is complex, but it is important to note that help is available no matter what you are going through.

This study likewise comes at a pivotal time. It underscores the need for serious research into firearms and public health. In December, Congress authorized federal funds to study gun violence through grants administered by the CDC and NIH. This study shows the superlative work being done on this subject without federal assistance. Those funds are needed to catalyze that research and help studies such as Stanford's to continue to reveal the truths about firearms and public health. There is still so much to learn on this issue.”

Findings of note include:

  • Over the course of the study, October 2004 to December 2016:
    • 17,894 died by suicide and 6,691 were suicides by firearm
    • Men accounted for 70 percent of the suicides
    • Men accounted for 83 percent of suicides by firearm
    • Women accounted for 16 percent of all suicides by firearm
  • The risk of suicide is three times higher among handgun owners than among nonowners
  • The rate of suicide among male handgun owners was three times higher than non owners
    • The rate of suicide by firearm was almost eight times higher for men who owned handguns than for men who did not
  • The rate of suicide among female handgun owners was seven times higher than non owners
    • The rate of suicide by firearm was 35 times higher for women who owned handguns than for women who did not
  • Elevated rates of suicide among handgun owners is driven by substantially higher rates of gun suicide among this population, not of higher rates of suicide by other methods.
  • 14 percent of firearm suicides occurred during the first 30 days after a firearm was purchased


About the Study:

This study was conducted by numerous researchers across multiple institutions and Stanford University. The study ran from October 18, 2004 until December 31, 2016, identifying handgun acquisitions and deaths in a cohort of 26.3 million residents of California over the age of 21 who had not previously acquired handguns.

About Suicide in the United States:

Gun suicides account for the majority of gun deaths in the United States, 24,432 deaths in 2018. Suicide rates have been increasing, with a crude rate of 14.8 per 100,000 Americans in 2018. Firearm suicide affects youth as well. For minors who have used a firearm in a suicide attempt, 82 percent used a firearm belonging to a family member, and 64 percent of those guns were stored unlocked. For more information, listen to Brady’s podcast episode with Dr. Jonathan Singer and Colleen Creighton of the American Association of Suicidology and visit Brady’s fact sheet on how to support survivors and people impacted by gun violence.

For resources during this pandemic, please visit the Pandemic Crisis Services Response Coalition: https://www.covidmentalhealthsupport.org

If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, please call the free and confidential National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text the Crisis Textline by texting HOME to 741741.

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Brady has one powerful mission — to unite all Americans against gun violence. We work across Congress, the courts, and our communities with over 90 grassroots chapters, bringing together young and old, red and blue, and every shade of color to find common ground in common sense. In the spirit of our namesakes Jim and Sarah Brady, we have fought for over 45 years to take action, not sides, and we will not stop until this epidemic ends. It’s in our hands.


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