Context: Firearms are used in approximately half of all youth suicides. Many state and federal laws include age-specific restrictions on the purchase, possession, or storage of firearms; however, the association between these laws and suicides among youth has not been carefully examined.
Objective: To evaluate the association between youth-focused firearm laws and suicides among youth.
Design, setting, and participants: Quasi-experimental design with annual state-level data on suicide rates among US youth aged 14 through 20 years, for the period 1976-2001. Negative binomial regression models were used to estimate the association between state and federal youth-focused firearm laws mandating a minimum age for the purchase or possession of handguns and state child access prevention (CAP) laws requiring safe storage of firearms on suicide rates among youth.
Main outcome measures: Association between youth-focused state and federal firearm laws and rates of firearm, nonfirearm, and total suicides among US youth aged 14 to 17 and 18 through 20 years.
Results: There were 63 954 suicides among youth aged 14 through 20 years during the 1976-2001 study period, 39 655 (62%) of which were committed with firearms. Minimum purchase-age and possession-age laws were not associated with statistically significant reductions in suicide rates among youth aged 14 through 20 years. State CAP laws were associated with an 8.3% decrease (rate ratio [RR], 0.92; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.86-0.98) in suicide rates among 14- to 17-year-olds. The annual rate of suicide in this age group in states with CAP laws was 5.97 per 100 000 population rather than the projected 6.51. This association was also statistically significant for firearm suicides (RR, 0.89; 95% CI, 0.83-0.96) but not for nonfirearm suicides (RR, 1.00; 95% CI, 0.91-1.10). CAP laws were also associated with a significant reduction in suicides among youth aged 18 through 20 years (RR, 0.89; 95% CI, 0.85-0.93); however, the association was similar for firearm suicides (RR, 0.87; 95% CI, 0.82-0.92) and nonfirearm suicides (RR, 0.91; 95% CI, 0.85-0.98).
Conclusions: There is evidence that CAP laws are associated with a modest reduction in suicide rates among youth aged 14 to 17 years. As currently implemented, minimum age restrictions for the purchase and possession of firearms do not appear to reduce overall rates of suicide among youth.