Laws making it harder to get guns linked to decline in suicides by firearm

Johns Hopkins study looked at relationship between permit-to-purchase regulations, suicide rates

Requiring permits for gun purchases could play a role in lowering suicide rates, according to new research from Johns Hopkins University.

The study examined recent changes in handgun purchaser licensing laws in two states and what impact they have had on rates of suicide by firearm.

In Connecticut, a 1995 law requiring individuals to acquire a license before buying a gun—a process that includes a background check—was linked to a 15.4 percent drop in firearm suicide rates. Meanwhile in Missouri, a 2007 repeal of a handgun licensing law was associated with a 16.1 increase in firearm suicide rates.

The study, which comes out of the Center for Gun Policy and Research at JHU's Bloomberg School of Public Health, appears in a special issue of Preventive Medicine focusing on gun violence prevention.

Half of all suicides in the United States are committed with a firearm. In 2013, more than 21,000 people in the nation committed suicide with a gun, compared to 11,000 homicides committed by firearm, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control. Creating barriers in access to handguns, such as permit-to-purchase (PTP) laws, may be one way for states to help prevent suicides, researchers suggest.

Also see: The death toll from guns no one talks about (The Washington Post)

In Connecticut, PTP laws require gun buyers to pass a background check and successfully complete an eight-hour safety course before receiving an eligibility certificate.

Although such laws "were not designed to reduce suicides, many of the risk factors that disqualify someone from legal gun ownership—domestic violence, history of committing violent crimes, substance abuse, severe mental illness, and adolescence—are also risk factors for suicide," says lead study author Cassandra Crifasi, an assistant scientist with the Center for Gun Policy and Research.

Prior research has shown that states with PTP laws tend to have lower suicide rates than states without such laws, but this new study is the first to examine whether changes in the policy led to changes in the risk of suicide over time. Hopkins researchers analyzed data from 1981 to 2012.

In Missouri, the PTP law was repealed in 2007, reducing a barrier to handgun access.

"Contrary to popular belief, suicidal thoughts are often transient, which is why delaying access to a firearm during a period of crisis could prevent suicide," says study author Daniel Webster, director of the Center for Gun Policy and Research.

Read more from School of Public Health

Posted in Politics+Society

Tagged gun policy, suicide