Handgun owners are far more likely to die by suicide than people who don't own guns, study finds

Handgun owners are far more likely to die by suicide than people who don't own guns, study finds
  • A study of 26 million Californians found that owning a gun was linked to an increased suicide risk.
  • During the course of the study, 17,894 died by suicide and 6,691 of those deaths were suicides by handgun.
  • The risk of suicide was at least three times higher when a person owned a handgun, the study authors said.

A study of 26 million Californians found that suicide was nearly four times more common among people who owned guns compared to those who didn't.

Over the course of 12 years, there were about 1.4 million deaths, of which 17,894 were deaths by suicide. Over a third of those (6,691) were suicides by handgun.

And yet, the proportion of people in the study who had access to a gun was relatively low: there were 676,425 gun-owners, which equates to 3% of the 26 million.

"The evidence indicates that the risk of suicide is three times as high when there is firearm access as when there is not," the study authors concluded. The study, which was published in The New England Journal of Medicine, is the first to analyze the relationship between suicide rates and handgun ownership, and tracks people from their initial handgun purchase.

The authors noted that suicide is often an impulsive act. Many suicidal attempts do not succeed, and many people who do not die from attempting suicide generally do not go on to die in a future suicide, while those who die via suicide often haven't attempted suicide before.


Whether a suicide attempt kills the person ultimately depends on how lethal the weapon they use is. If a person has a gun in their home, it is highly likely that the suicide will be lethal.

That makes guns a risk factor for suicide, especially in the United States, where civilians own guns and has one of the highest rates of suicide by firearm.

Male handgun owners are more at-risk than female handgun owners

Male handgun owners were eight times more likely to die via their handguns than non-gun owners, and female handgun owners were 35 times more likely to die via their handguns than other women who didn't own guns.

On average, the handgun owners were about 41 years old when the study began. 78% of the participants were male, 74% were white and 17% resided outside an urban area. Men accounted for 70% of the suicides noted by the study.

The study authors also noted that 52% of all suicides by firearm among the occurred among handgun owners happened over a year after the guns were purchased.


Ken Norton, a spokesperson for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, told NBC News, which first reported the study, that the findings "question the prevailing notion that people feel safer when they have a firearm."

This study is consistent with prior research, which found that handgun ownership was a suicide risk.

"Our study bolsters and extends the message from previous research: ready access to firearms, particularly handguns, is a major risk factor for suicide," the study authors wrote, adding that healthcare providers and policymakers should be aware of this risk, as should current or prospective firearm owners.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text HOME to 741741 or visit SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.