Preventing Suicide Through Better Firearm Safety Policy in the United States

Psychiatr Serv. 2021 Feb 1;72(2):174-179. doi: 10.1176/ Epub 2020 Sep 3.


The U.S. suicide rate continues to increase, despite federal investment in developing preventive behavioral health care interventions. Important determinants of suicide-social, economic, and circumstantial-have little or no connection to psychopathology. Firearm injuries account for over half of suicides, and firearm access is perhaps the most important modifiable determinant. Thus gun safety policy deserves special attention as a pathway to suicide prevention. This article summarizes arguments for several recommended statutory modifications to firearm restrictions at the state level. The policy challenge is to develop and implement evidence-based strategies to keep guns out of the hands of people at highest risk of suicide, without unduly infringing the rights of a large number of gun owners who are unlikely to harm anyone. Recommendations for states include expansion and refinement of legal criteria prohibiting firearm purchase, possession, or access to better align with suicide risk, including prohibition for persons with brief involuntary psychiatric holds or repeated alcohol-impaired driving convictions; enactment of extreme risk protection order laws, which allow temporary removal of firearms from persons who are behaving dangerously, and entering purchase prohibition data for these persons in the FBI's background-check database; and adoption of an innovative policy known as precommitment against suicide as well as voluntary self-enrollment in the FBI's background-check database.

Keywords: Firearm policy; Suicide and self-destructive behavior.

MeSH terms

  • Firearms*
  • Humans
  • Ownership
  • Policy
  • Suicide Prevention*
  • United States
  • Wounds, Gunshot*