Context: Little attention has been given to the role of firearms in suicide. In 1998, firearms were the leading method of committing suicide for both men and women, responsible for three times the number of suicides compared to the next leading method. Understanding the epidemiology of firearm suicide will increase awareness of firearm suicide as a major public health problem.
Results: Rates of firearm suicide have changed little over the past two decades and have consistently exceeded rates of firearm homicide. The firearm suicide rate among men is approximately six times that of women. While firearm suicide rates are highest among the elderly, the majority (66%) of firearm suicides are among persons under 55 years of age. Firearm suicide rates among women of all ages have dropped modestly, while rates among elderly men have risen considerably. Whites have roughly twice the rate of firearm suicide as do blacks and other race/ethnicity groups. Individual-level empirical studies have consistently indicated that keeping firearms in the home is associated with an increased risk of suicide.
Conclusions: For suicide prevention to be effective, the availability and use of firearms in suicides must be addressed.