To Reduce Teen Suicide Toll, Remove Guns

October 29, 2007

Researchers have found a simple method to reduce teen suicide: Reduce access to firearms.

Researchers have found a simple method to reduce teen suicide: Reduce access tofirearms.

"Firearms in the hands of kids who are depressed is a bad idea," explained pediatricemergency medicine specialist Denise Dowd, MD, MPH, at the AAP National Conference & Exhibition onSunday afternoon. "When you shoot a gun with intent, at yourself or at someone else, there is asignificant risk of doing harm. If you eliminate the gun, you immediately reduce the risk ofharm."

Dr. Dowd said her advice to either remove firearms from the home or to lock them up issupported by solid data. Suicide attempts using firearms are successful 91% of the time, sheexplained. That compares with an 84% success rate for drowning, 82% by hanging, 4% by cutting, and 2%by poisoning. One study found that while firearms account for 10% of all suicide attempts, they areresponsible for 67% of successful suicides.

Multiple case-controlled studies have found a strong association between a firearm in thehome and increased rates of suicide by firearm. In 75% of successful teen and young adult firearmsuicides, the weapon was from the victim's own home or from the home of a close friend or relative.Firearm suicides are equally divided between handguns and long guns, Dr. Dowd noted.

Focus group interviews with teens and parents found that both groups recognized that easieraccess to firearms translates into more attempted suicides and more successful suicides. "Theyrecognized the relationship intuitively," she said. "Both adolescents and parents suggested securingor removing guns from the household entirely as ways to reduce suicides involving firearms."

So did a 2005 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. When afirearm is stored in the home, simply keeping the weapon unloaded reduced the odds ratio of asuccessful suicide to 0.3. Storing firearms in a locked location reduced the odds ration of asuccessful suicide to 0.27. And keeping ammunition locked in a location separate from the firearmreduced the odds ratio to 0.39.

"There was a very significant protective effect for each action we considered," Dr. Dowdsaid. "Locking up the gun really does work to reduce suicides by young people."