Background: It has been suggested that limiting access to firearms could prevent many suicides, but this belief is controversial. To assess the strength of the association between the availability of firearms and suicide, we studied all suicides that took place in the homes of victims in Shelby County, Tennessee, and King County, Washington, over a 32-month period.
Methods: For each suicide victim (case subject), we obtained data from police or the medical examiner and interviewed a proxy. Their answers were compared with those of control subjects from the same neighborhood, matched with the victim according to sex, race, and age range. Crude and adjusted odds ratios were calculated with matched-pairs methods.
Results: During the study period, 803 suicides occurred in the two counties, 565 of which (70 percent) took place in the home of the victim. Fifty-eight percent (326) of these suicides were committed with a firearm. After excluding 11 case subjects for various reasons, we were able to interview 80 percent (442) of the proxies for the case subjects. Matching controls were identified for 99 percent of these subjects, producing 438 matched pairs. Univariate analyses revealed that the case subjects were more likely than the controls to have lived alone, taken prescribed psychotropic medication, been arrested, abused drugs or alcohol, or not graduated from high school. After we controlled for these characteristics through conditional logistic regression, the presence of one or more guns in the home was found to be associated with an increased risk of suicide (adjusted odds ratio, 4.8; 95 percent confidence interval, 2.7 to 8.5).
Conclusions: Ready availability of firearms is associated with an increased risk of suicide in the home. Owners of firearms should weigh their reasons for keeping a gun in the home against the possibility that it might someday be used in a suicide.