Firearm Suicide in the United States

Access to a gun during a period of crisis is often the difference between life and death. Approximately 90% of people who attempt suicide with a gun will die. In contrast, over 90% of those who attempt suicide by other methods will live, and they are unlikely to attempt suicide again. This is not because gun users are more suicidal, or more mentally ill. It is because guns are more lethal than any other method of self-harm.

That fact is the driving force behind an epidemic of gun suicide in America. Americans are eight times more likely to die by firearm suicide than people in other high-income countries, thirteen veterans die by gun suicide every day, and child firearm suicide is on the rise. In total, over 21,000 Americans die by gun suicide each year. But firearm suicide can be prevented. Responsible gun storage, a strong background check system, and temporarily removing guns in periods of acute crisis are common-sense strategies to protect those at greatest risk.



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Lethality Rates


Across all suicide attempts not involving a firearm, less than 10% will result in death. But for gun suicides, those statistics are flipped: approximately 90% of gun suicide attempts end in death.




Suicide accounts for nearly two of every three gun deaths in this country, and U.S. gun suicide rates dwarf those of other high-income countries.

  • Each year, over 21,000 Americans die by gun suicide – nearly 58 deaths per day.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Centers for Injury Prevention and Control, Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS). A yearly average was developed using five years of most recent available data: 2011-2015. Of the 169,396 firearm deaths during this period, 105,235 (or 62 percent) were deaths by firearm suicide. More than half of all suicide deaths in the U.S. are carried out with a gun.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Centers for Injury Prevention and Control, Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS). A yearly average was developed using five years of most recent available data: 2011-2015.
  • The gun suicide rate in the U.S. is eight times that of other high-income countries.Grinshteyn E, Hemenway, D. Violent death rates: the US compared with other high-income OECD countries, 2010. The American Journal of Medicine. 2016; 129(3): 266-73.
  • Older males are more likely to die by gun suicide.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Centers for Injury Prevention and Control, Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS). A yearly average was developed using five years of most recent available data: 2011-2015.
  • Firearm suicide varies by race; whites have the greatest risk of firearm suicide, followed by American Indians and Alaska Natives.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Centers for Injury Prevention and Control, Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS). Using five years of the most recent available data (2011–2015) whites had the highest age-adjusted rates of firearm suicide (7.28 per 100,000), followed by American Indians and Alaska Natives (4.55 per 100,000).

Child firearm suicide is on the rise—and when children kill themselves with a gun, it’s most often a gun from their own home.

  • American children are 11 times more likely to die by gun suicide than their peers in other high-income countries.Grinshteyn E, Hemenway, D. Violent death rates: the US compared with other high-income OECD countries, 2010. The American Journal of Medicine. 2016; 129(3): 266-73. Children in this study are defined as ages 5-14.
  • Until 2007, child firearm suicide was declining in the U.S. Since then, it has increased by 70%—to its highest rate in more than a decade—and now kills approximately 500 American children every year.Fowler K, Dahlberg L, Haileyesus T, Gutierrez C, Bacon S. Childhood Firearm Injuries in the United States. Pediatrics. 2017;140(1):e20163486.; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Centers for Injury Prevention and Control, Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS). Available at https://webappa.cdc.gov/sasweb/ncipc/mortrate.html Accessed Aug. 10, 2017.
  • Four in ten child suicides involve a firearm.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Centers for Injury Prevention and Control, Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS). A yearly average was developed using five years of most recent available data: 2011-2015. And when children die by gun suicide, they are likely to be using a gun they found at home: over 80% of youth gun suicides used a gun belonging to a family member.Johnson RM, Barber C, Azrael D, Clark DE, Hemenway D. Who are the owners of firearms used in adolescent suicides? Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior. 2010; 40(6): 609-611.
  • Many American children have easy access to guns. More than 1 in 3 U.S. children live in a gun-owning household, and only half of those households report that all their firearms are locked.Schuster MA, Franke TM, Bastian AM, et al. Firearm storage patterns in US homes with children. American Journal of Public Health. 2000; 90(4): 588–594. In all, almost 1.7 million U.S. children live in homes with firearms that are both unlocked and loaded.Okoro CA, Nelson DE, Mercy JA, et al. Prevalence of household firearms and firearm-storage practices in the 50 States and the District of Columbia: findings from the behavioral risk factor surveillance system, 2002. Pediatrics. 2005; 116(3): e370-6.



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Many of those who attempt suicide spend 10 minutes or less deliberating before the actual attempt.




Veterans are at a heightened risk of suicide, and firearm suicide in particular.

  • About twenty veterans die by suicide each day.U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. A Suicide Prevention Program: Facts about Veteran Suicide. July 2016. Available at: http://bit.ly/2cex5b8.
  • The suicide rate of the veteran population is 22% higher than that of the civilian population.U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. A Suicide Prevention Program: Facts about Veteran Suicide. July 2016. Available at: http://bit.ly/2cex5b8.
  • Two-thirds of veteran suicides are by gun.U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. A Suicide Prevention Program: Facts about Veteran Suicide. July 2016. Available at: http://bit.ly/2cex5b8.

Most people who attempt suicide do not die—unless they use a gun.

  • When a person attempts suicide, the method they use determines how likely they are to survive.
  • Across all suicide attempts not involving a firearm, less than 10% will result in death. Miller M, Azrael D, Barber C. Suicide mortality in the United States: the importance of attending to method in understanding population-level disparities in the burden of suicide. Annual Review of Public Health. 2012; 33: 393-408.
  • For example, 98% of people who try to kill themselves through drug overdose—the most common method of attempted suicide—will survive the attempt. Miller M, Azrael D, Barber C. Suicide mortality in the United States: the importance of attending to method in understanding population-level disparities in the burden of suicide. Annual Review of Public Health. 2012; 33: 393-408.
  • For gun suicides, those statistics are flipped: approximately 90% of gun suicide attempts end in death. Miller M, Azrael D, Barber C. Suicide mortality in the United States: the importance of attending to method in understanding population-level disparities in the burden of suicide. Annual Review of Public Health. 2012; 33: 393-408.
  • Gun users are no more suicidal, or have no greater intent to die, than those who use other methods.Brown, G K, Henriques, G R, Sosdjan, D, and Beck, AT. Suicide intent and accurate expectations of lethality: predictors of medical lethality of suicide attempts. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. 2004; 72(6): 1170-1174. They simply have access to a particularly dangerous method of self-harm.

Suicide is often an impulsive act, and those who survive a suicidal act are unlikely to try again.

  • Many of those who attempt suicide spend 10 minutes or less deliberating before the actual attempt.Deisenhammer EA, Ing CM, Strauss R, et al. The duration of the suicidal process: how much time is left for intervention between consideration and accomplishment of a suicide attempt? J Clin Psychiatry. 2009; 70(1): 19-24. See also: Simon, T.R., Swann AC, Powell KE, Potter LB, Kresnow M, and O’Carroll PW. Characteristics of impulsive suicide attempts and attempters. SLTB. 2001; 32(supp): 49-59.
  • More than 90% of people who survive suicide attempts do not later die of suicide.Owens D, Horrocks J, House A. Fatal and non-fatal repetition of self-harm: systematic review. British Journal of Psychiatry. 2002; 181: 193-199. In fact, 70% of people who attempt suicide and survive have no further attempts.Owens D, Horrocks J, House A. Fatal and non-fatal repetition of self-harm: systematic review. British Journal of Psychiatry. 2002; 181: 193-199.
  • So, contrary to myth, a person with suicidal intent is not going to kill themselves “one way or another;” if they do not have access to lethal means of self-harm, they are likely to survive the moment of crisis.

Since suicide attempts with a gun are almost always lethal, access to a gun increases the risk of death by suicide.

  • Household gun access triples the risk of death by suicide.Anglemyer A, Horvath T, Rutherford G. The accessibility of firearms and risk for suicide and homicide victimization among household members: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2014; 160: 101–110.
  • People living in states with the highest prevalence of guns are almost four times more likely to die by gun suicide than people living in states with the lowest prevalence of guns.Miller M, Lippman SJ, Azrael D, and Hemenway D. Household firearm ownership and rates of suicide across the 50 United States. The Journal of Trauma Injury, Infection, and Critical Care. 2007; 62(4): 1029-35. The high-prevalence group included WY, SD, AK, WV, MT, AR, MS, ID, ND, AL, KY, WI, LA, TN, and UT, with a total population of 116 million. The low prevalence group included HI, MA, RI, NJ, CT, and NY, with a total population of 119 million.
  • One study found that the risk of death by gun suicide increased by seven times within the first year of purchasing a handgun. Wintemute GJ, Parham CA, Beaumont JJ, Wright MA, Drake C. Mortality among Recent Purchasers of Handguns. The New England Journal of Medicine. 1999;341(21):1583-1589.
  • Research shows that variations in suicide rates across states, cities, and regions are primarily due to variations in the availability of firearms—not by differences in mental health.Miller M, Azrael D, Barber C. Suicide mortality in the United States: the importance of attending to method in understanding population level disparities in the burden of suicide. Annual Review of Public Health. 2012; 33: 393-408.



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A gun in the home triples the risk of death by suicide.




Common-sense programs and policies can save lives by limiting gun access for children and people at risk of harming themselves.

  • Responsible gun storage can prevent firearm suicide by children and teens.
    • Since most children who die by gun suicide use a gun from their own home, responsible storage is central to child suicide prevention. Storing firearms unloaded and locked, with the ammunition locked in a separate location, reduces a child’s ability to access those guns and protects children from suicide.Grossman DC, Mueller BA, Riedy C. Gun storage practices and risk of youth suicide and unintentional firearm injuries. The Journal of the American Medical Association. 2005; 293(6): 707-14.
    • There is widespread agreement that good medical care includes conversations about safe firearm storage. A majority of U.S. adults—including gun owners—believe it’s appropriate for doctors to talk to their patients about firearms.Betz. Public opinion regarding whether speaking with patients about firearms is appropriate. Ann IM. 2016;165:543-550 And gun owners who receive counseling from their physician about firearm storage are more likely to store their guns responsibly. Albright TL, Burge SK. Improving firearm storage habits: impact of brief office counseling by family physicians. J Am Board Fam Pract. 2003;16(1):40-46.
    • Communities can take action to promote safe storage. A community-based safe storage training and lockbox giveaway was associated with improved storage practices. And community members like police, veterans, and firearms retailers—people who use guns regularly—are among the most trusted voices in safe storage.Simonetti JA, Rowhani-Rahbar A, King C, Bennett E, Rivara FP. Evaluation of a community-based safe firearm and ammunition storage intervention. Inj Prev. June 2017.
  • Extreme risk protection orders provide an opportunity to intervene and remove firearms from people at risk of harming themselves.
    • Extreme risk protection orders (ERPOs) allow law enforcement or immediate family members to petition a court to temporarily remove firearms from an individual who is at risk to himself or others.
    • Connecticut has a version of an extreme risk protection order law in place, and it has been linked to a reduction in suicides. Researchers estimate that a suicide is averted in approximately one in ten gun removal cases brought under this law.Swanson JW, Norko M, Lin H, Alanis-Hirsch K, Frisman L, Baranoski M, Easter M, Robertson AG, Swartz M, and Bonnie RJ. Implementation and effectiveness of Connecticut’s risk-based gun removal law: does it prevent suicides? Law and Contemporary Problems. 2017; 80: 179-208.
  • Background checks on all gun sales help keep firearms out of the hands of people with dangerous mental illnesses.
    • In the states that go beyond federal law and require background checks on all handgun sales, including guns sold by unlicensed sellers, there are 47% fewer gun suicides. Background Checks Reduce Gun Violence and Save Lives. EverytownResearch.org. 2017. Available at: http://every.tw/2wUF5E2.
    • Connecticut’s background check law, for example, led to an estimated 15% drop in the state’s gun suicide rate.Crifasi CK, Meyers JS, Vernick JS, Webster DW. Effects of changes in permit-to-purchase handgun laws in Connecticut and Missouri on suicide rates. Preventive Medicine. October 2015, 79: 43-49. In contrast, when Missouri repealed background checks, it led to an estimated 16% increase in state gun suicide rates.Crifasi CK, Meyers JS, Vernick JS, Webster DW. Effects of changes in permit-to-purchase handgun laws in Connecticut and Missouri on suicide rates. Preventive Medicine. October 2015, 79: 43-49.
  • Veterans Affairs records are an essential part of the background check system.
    • Members of Congress have proposed discarding hundreds of thousands of mental health records from the background check system. This would enable VA beneficiaries suffering from severe mental illnesses to buy firearms. Veterans already bear a disproportionate burden in the U.S. gun suicide epidemic; enabling gun access for those in crisis would only put them at greater risk.



The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. suicidepreventionlifeline.org 1-800-273-TALK (8255)


Text HOME to 741741 from anywhere in the US, anytime, about any type of crisis.
For more information on responsible storage of firearms and how you can help others improve their storage practices, visit besmartforkids.org