Access to firearms and risk for suicide in middle-aged and older adults

Am J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2002 Jul-Aug;10(4):407-16.


Elderly white men are at the highest risk for suicide. Firearms are the most common method of suicide used by both men and women in later life, and a greater proportion of older than younger suicide victims use a gun. This psychological autopsy study aimed to test hypotheses concerning the risk for suicide associated with access to and storage of firearms. Subjects included 86 suicide victims age 50 years of age and over and 86 community control subjects individually matched on age, sex, race, and county of residence. Presence of a firearm in the home was associated with increased risk for suicide, even after controlling for psychiatric illness. Elevated risk was accounted for by access to handguns rather than long guns and was more pronounced in men than women. Among subjects who kept a gun in the home, storing the weapon loaded and unlocked were independent predictors of suicide. Findings support the potential benefit for suicide prevention of restricting access to handguns. Education programs for older persons, their families, and healthcare providers concerning the risks of having a gun in the home and reinforcement of rules for safe storage may contribute to reducing the rate of suicide in older people.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Female
  • Firearms*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Sex Factors
  • Suicide / psychology*
  • Suicide / statistics & numerical data*