More stringent gun laws can save lives, while less stringent ones can lead to more deaths. That is the implication of a new study by researchers at Johns Hopkins, who found that gun suicides plummeted after a law in Connecticut requiring background checks for handgun purchases was passed. Gun suicides in Missouri, meanwhile, spiked after a similar law was repealed there.
“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,” said study author Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, in a press release announcing the study’s findings on Tuesday. “Just as research indicates that handgun purchaser licensing laws are effective in reducing firearm homicides, they could reduce suicides by firearms as well.”
The study, published by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research in the October issue of Preventive Medicine, found a 15.4 percent reduction in firearm suicide rates in Connecticut after the passage of a 1995 law requiring individuals to obtain a permit or license to purchase a handgun after passing a background check. Similarly, “Missouri’s repeal of its handgun purchaser licensing law in 2007 was associated with a 16.1 percent increase in firearm suicide rates.”
Researchers were careful to point out they couldn’t prove a clear causal relationship, noting that overall suicide rates in Connecticut went down at the same time that gun suicides did. In Missouri, though, there was no significant change in suicide by means other than guns after the state’s repeal of its handgun licensing law.
“Although these 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,” said lead study author Cassandra Crifasi.
The study confirms similar findings by researchers at George Mason University that more guns result in more suicide, but it was the first to study whether policy changes actually impacted suicide risk over time. Johns Hopkins’ Center for Gun Policy and Research had previously found a 40 percent decrease in gun homicide rates after the Connecticut law was passed, and a 25 percent increase in Missouri rates after the repeal.
Data from the CDC and an analysis by Slate showed that gun suicides were a large—and largely ignored—portion of the overall issue of gun violence in the United States, with about 2 out of 3 gun deaths coming from suicides.