September 08, 2015
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Background checks for gun purchases may influence suicide rate

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Permit-to-purchase laws, which require those purchasing firearms to undergo a background check, may have an impact on rates of suicide by firearm, according to recently published data in Preventive Medicine.

“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,” Cassandra K. Crifasi, PhD, MPH, assistant scientist, Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, said in a press release.  

To assess the impact of permit-to-purchase (PTP) laws on suicide rates in Connecticut and Missouri, Crifasi and colleagues used a quasi-experimental research design and analyzed annual, state-level suicide data from 1981 to 2012.

Using a synthetic control model, Crifasi and colleagues estimated that a 15.4% decrease in suicide by firearm could be attributed to Connecticut’s PTP laws.

The researchers also estimated that a 16.1% increase in suicide by firearm was associated with repealed PTP laws in Missouri.

In Missouri, no other substantial change was seen in rates of suicide by means other than firearms.

Crifasi noted that in the decline in suicide rates in Connecticut could be due to more than just PTP laws, since suicide rates were lower than normal for all methods, not just by firearms.

Additionally, the researchers noted that physicians who treat patients at elevated risk for suicide may consider counseling both the patient and their families about the possible link between suicide risk and gun access. 

“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. Just as research indicates that handgun purchaser licensing laws are effective in reducing firearm homicides, they could reduce suicides by firearms as well,” Daniel Webster, ScD, MPH, director of Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, said in the release. – by Casey Hower

Disclosures: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.