Objectives: The purpose of this study was to determine whether purchase of a handgun from a licensed dealer is associated with the risk of homicide or suicide and whether any association varies in relation to time since purchase.
Methods: A case-control study was done among the members of a large health maintenance organization. Case subjects were the 353 suicide victims and 117 homicide victims among the members from 1980 through 1992. Five control subjects were matched to each case subject on age, sex, and zip code of residence. Handgun purchase information was obtained from the Department of Licensing.
Results: The adjusted relative risk of suicide was 1.9 (95% confidence interval [CI] = 1.4, 2.5) for persons with a history of family handgun purchase from a registered dealer. The adjusted relative risk for homicide, given a history of family handgun purchase, was 2.2 (95% CI = 1.3, 3.7). For both suicide and homicide, the elevated relative risks persisted for more than 5 years after the purchase.
Conclusions: Legal purchase of a handgun appears to be associated with a long-lasting increased risk of violent death.