Guns and Suicide

You are not alone. If you need confidential and free help call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-8255.

The Issue

Suicide is a big part of America’s gun violence problem. There are more than 20,000 suicides completed with firearms in the United States each year. This figure accounts for ⅔ of all gun deaths in the United States as well as more than ½ of all suicides. Clearly, suicide represents a large part of our gun violence problem.


The Facts

A person is more likely to commit suicide if there is a gun in his or her home. States where it is common to own a gun have 3.8 times more suicide deaths than do states where gun ownership is less common. It is unlikely that a gun will be used to commit suicide if there is no gun in the home. If a person’s preferred method of suicide is unavailable, he or she is unlikely to use an alternate means.

There are three main reasons why guns and suicide are intricately linked. First, guns are lethal, and as a result, suicides by firearm are much more likely to be completed than attempts with other means. Around 85% of attempted firearm suicides result in death, while less than 3% of suicides by drug overdose, the most common method of suicide nationally, result in death.

Second, the easy accessibility of guns in the United States facilitates firearm suicide. In Pennsylvania, there is no waiting period between the purchase of firearm and the actual transfer of the gun to the buyer. There is also no requirement to obtain a license or to register with any governmental entity before purchasing a firearm. Due to the lack of strong regulations on the sale of firearms in Pennsylvania, it is relatively easy for people who plan to attempt suicide by firearm to obtain the means to do so.

Third, both the decision and action of suicide are often impulsive. One-quarter of survivors of suicide attempts said that they made their attempt within 5 minutes of their decision to do so, while half made their attempt within 20 minutes, and three-quarters made their attempt within an hour. Suicide by firearm is more often completed than suicide attempted by other means, thereby depriving a person of the chance to reconsider his or her decision.


Some Sobering Statistics

  • In many areas of Pennsylvania, especially rural areas, people are far more likely to die from firearm suicide than from being murdered with a firearm. Of all of the deaths in Pennsylvania due to firearms, ⅔ were suicides.
  • Nationwide, firearm suicide is highly concentrated in the older white male population. Of the over 22,000 firearm suicides reported by the CDC in 2015, 85.9% were males. Of that population, 80.6% were males over the age of 30, 94.3% of whom were white.
  • Having a gun in the home increases the risk of suicide by a factor of 5, while it increases the risk of suicide by a firearm by a factor of 17. Guns in homes are more likely to be used for suicide than for self-defense. In fact, for every time a gun is used for self-defense at home it is used 11 times for suicide. In addition, over 75% of firearms that were used in attempted and completed suicides were found in the homes of the victims, or the homes of their friends and families.
  • In 2015, 1,468 men in Pennsylvania died by suicide. Of the 1,468 men, 54.97% of them used a firearm. Suicide by firearm was the leading form of suicide for men in Pennsylvania, and it was almost double that of the second highest form of suicide, which was self hanging. Additionally, in 2015, 426 women in Pennsylvania, died by suicide. Of the 426 women, 27.93% of them used a firearm to do so. This was the second leading form of suicide for women in Pennsylvania, just behind self poisoning.
  • Suicide is a particularly tragic problem among America’s veterans. Every day, about 20 veterans take their own lives, and two-thirds do so with a firearm.


What Can You Do?

We can protect Americans across the country from the dangerous intersection between guns and suicide. There are commonsense steps we can take to save lives. Some are legislative solutions, such as implementing waiting periods, safe storage laws and Extreme Risk Protection Order process. Others are knowing the signs and being available to help someone in crisis. Click here to look at a guide to knowing the signs of someone who may be suicidal. Join us as we fight to protect members of our community from accessing deadly firearms in times of crisis.