Objective: Firearms are the most common method of suicide among young men in Switzerland. From March 2003 through February 2004, the number of Swiss soldiers was halved as a result of an army reform (Army XXI), leading to a decrease in the availability of guns nationwide. The authors investigated the patterns of the overall suicide rate and the firearm suicide rate before and after the reform.
Method: Using a naturalistic study design, the authors compared suicide rates before (1995–2003) and after the intervention (2004–2008) in the affected population (men ages 18–43) and in two comparison groups (women ages 18–44 and men ages 44–53). Data were received from the Swiss Federal Statistical Office. Interrupted time series analysis was used to control for preexisting temporal trends. Alternative methods (Poisson regression, autocorrelation analysis, and surrogate data tests) were used to check validity.
Results: The authors found a reduction in both the overall suicide rate and the firearm suicide rate after the Army XXI reform. No significant increases were found for other suicide methods overall. An increase in railway suicides was observed. It was estimated that 22% of the reduction in firearm suicides was substituted by other suicide methods. The attenuation of the suicide rate was not compensated for during the follow-up years. Neither of the comparison groups showed statistically significant changes in firearm suicide rate and overall suicide rate.
Conclusions: The restriction of firearm availability in Switzerland resulting from the Army XXI reform was followed by an enduring decrease in the general suicide rate.