Handgun Ownership and Suicide

distressed woman with her head in her hands

Suicide is an uncomfortable topic, and the stigma surrounding the topic itself can lead to decreased ability to prevent these tragic events. The primary risk factors for suicide are substance abuse and mental illness, primarily depression. Both are very common diagnoses that, while treatable, are often recognized too late.

While these underlying factors have almost always been present in individuals for a while before the impulse arrises, the impulse to commit suicide itself is often limited to a relatively short period of time, during which an intervention may save that person’s life.

One factor that increases the risk of completed suicide is easy access to a lethal method. In the United States, the most common lethal method is a handgun. When a gun is used in a suicide attempt, 90% will result in death – a much higher percentage than with most other means. In fact, of all gun-related deaths in the US, the majority – 60% – are from suicide rather than homicide, as is commonly assumed.

Steps to reduce this risk include removing access to guns for those at risk of suicide, particularly those who are currently suffering from depression, anxiety disorders or substance abuse. Guns in the home should always be securely locked, with ammunition also locked and stored separately, to reduce the risk to all in the household, particularly children and teenagers who are particularly vulnerable.

Read more about this topic within this Stanford Medicine News article

Sharmila Dissanaike, MD

Sharmila Dissanaike contributed this information as member of the Laura Bush Institute's Scientific Council

Sharmila Dissanaike, MD, is a University Distinguished Professor and Surgical Chairman at TTUHSC in Lubbock. She is a clinically active trauma, burn and acute care surgeon who has won over 50 awards for clinical, academic, and research excellence during her career. Dr. Dissanaike is internationally known as an advocate for the advancement and equality of women in surgery and the sciences.


Suicide is complex and often caused by multiple factors, not a single event. Help is available, including the crisis hotlines listed below or speaking to a medical professional.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-TALK (8255)
Military/Veterans Crisis Line: 800-273-TALK (8255) - Press 1
Crisis Text Line: 741741
(Resources found at Action Alliance Resources.)

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