Friday, December 02, 2022

Update: Percent of Suicides Committed with Guns v. Per Capita number of Guns


The terms firearms and guns are used interchangeably in this article.  The article is updated from an earlier article published in 2016. The graphic adds data from 2015-2020, six more years.

The number of firearms in private hands has been rising for at least 75
years.  During the last 25 years, the numbers of murders, murders with guns,
and violent crime with guns dropped sharply, then leveled. It has risen a fraction of the drop in the last three years.

The per capita rate of firearms ownership has increased significantly.

It has become very difficult to uncritically believe more guns equals more crime.

Fatal gun accidents are at an unprecedented low.  The rate of fatal gun accidents has dropped 94% in 85 years and has leveled off.

As the concept that more guns caused more violent crime  became discredited, those wishing a disarmed society changed the conversation by using the Orwellian term "gun violence". Gun violence included suicides with all homicides and the rare fatal gun accident to create a term to promote restricting the right to keep and bear arms.

The obvious problem is: The number of guns in society is not associated with the number of suicides in society.

Some societies such as Japan and Korea have very high suicide rates and very low gun ownership rates.

There has been significant conjecture that the availability of guns in society causes an increase in suicides.

The theory, briefly, rests on these claims and conjectures:

  • Suicide is an impulsive act
  • Guns make suicide easy
  • More guns or access to guns, results in a higher suicide rate.

The alternative hypothesis is:

  • The suicide rate is not determined by  means, but by other, underlying factors.
  • There are multiple means to commit suicide, many of which are easily accessible.
  • Guns are one of many means which can be chosen. If there are fewer guns, other methods will be substituted.  (hanging, cars, tall buildings, etc)
  • Changes in gun laws will not change suicide rates.

A simple check on the "guns cause suicide" hypothesis is to see if increasing per capita numbers of guns in society causes the overall suicide rate to increase, along with an increased percentage of suicides committed with guns.

If guns are simply one means of suicide, which is easily substituted, there should be more suicides with guns where there are more guns, but the overall suicide rate should not be affected.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has data for the number of suicides committed with guns since 1981. The rate of suicides were corrected for age distribution by the CDC.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco, and Explosives (ATF) has data on gun manufacture, imports and exports, from which the number of private guns and the per capita increase in gun ownership can be calculated.  The method used for determining the private stock of guns is that used by Gary Kleck, after being developed by Newton and Zimring.

The data show while the per capita ownership of guns has increased, and the rate of suicide has increased, the percentage of suicides with guns has decreased from the 1990s to 2006, then leveled off.

The percentage of suicides with guns dropped from a high of 61.1 % in 1990 to a low of 47.5% in 2018.

Several studies have found changes in gun laws have no effect on overall suicide rates, but may change the number of suicides committed with guns.

Guns have many positive uses, including defense of self and community, hunting, and recreation.

Suicide rates are not changed by the availability of guns in society. 

People decide to commit suicide or not. 

Guns are one of many methods available.  

Increasing suicide rates may result in more suicides being committed with guns. 


©2022 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice and link are included.

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