On an average day in the United States, more than 100 Americans die by suicide; half of these suicides involve the use of firearms. In this ecological study, we used linear regression techniques and recently available state-level measures of suicide attempt rates to assess whether, and if so, to what extent, the well-established relationship between household firearm ownership rates and suicide mortality persists after accounting for rates of underlying suicidal behavior. After controlling for state-level suicide attempt rates (2008-2009), higher rates of firearm ownership (assessed in 2004) were strongly associated with higher rates of overall suicide and firearm suicide, but not with nonfirearm suicide (2008-2009). Furthermore, suicide attempt rates were not significantly related to gun ownership levels. These findings suggest that firearm ownership rates, independent of underlying rates of suicidal behavior, largely determine variations in suicide mortality across the 50 states. Our results support the hypothesis that firearms in the home impose suicide risk above and beyond the baseline risk and help explain why, year after year, several thousand more Americans die by suicide in states with higher than average household firearm ownership compared with states with lower than average firearm ownership.
Keywords: firearms; guns; suicidality; suicide; suicide attempts.