More Guns, More Suicide: Causal Effect or Other Explanations?


The gun debate has focused on mass shootings and assault weapons since the school massacre in Newtown, Ct., but far more Americans die by turning guns on themselves, says the New York Times. Nearly 20,000 of the 30,000 gun deaths in the U.S. in 2010 were suicides, say the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The suicide rate has climbed by 12 percent since 2003, and suicide is the third-leading cause of death for teenagers. Suicide rates are higher in states with high gun ownership rates, like Wyoming, Montana, and Alaska. “The literature suggests that having a gun in your home to protect your family is like bringing a time bomb into your house,” said Dr. Mark Rosenberg, who helped establish the CDC's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. “Instead of protecting you, it's more likely to blow up.”

Some dispute the link, saying that it does not prove cause and effect, and that other factors, like alcoholism and drug abuse, may be driving the association. Gary Kleck, a professor of criminology at Florida State University, contends that gun owners may have qualities that make them more susceptible to suicide. They may be more likely to see see the world as a hostile place, or to blame themselves when things go wrong, a dark side of self-reliance. State health officials are trying to persuade families to keep guns away from troubled relatives or to lock the weapons up so teenagers cannot get them. Some say the inflamed national gun control debate make progress harder by putting gun owners on the defensive.

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