Suicide by Firearm Risk Higher Among Handgun Owners

devastated man with hands on head sits in front of gun on table
devastated man with hands on head sits in front of gun on table
This study looks at whether the type of and number of firearms owned by suicide decedents was associated with dying by suicide using a firearm compared to another method.

Among suicide decedents, handgun ownership is significantly associated with dying by self-inflicted gunshot wound, according to a study in the Archives of Suicide Research.

An older study in 2017 found that among firearm owners, those who stored firearms in an unsecured location were more likely to use their firearm to commit suicide. Using the same dataset, researchers wanted to better understand the means by which firearm owners commit suicide. The information could inform means safety, a concept that involves reducing access or increasing safe storage of suicide methods.

The current study used a subset of a dataset with information on suicide decedents (N = 267). The current sample (N = 121) included decedents who owned at least 1 shotgun, handgun, or both. The researchers queried decedents’ survivors to obtain that information.

The study authors found that 77.4% of individuals who died using a firearm owned a handgun, while 60.7% of individuals who died using another method owned a handgun. Shotguns were not significantly associated with a method. The more firearms a person owned, the less likely they were to use one to commit suicide (OR=.695; P=.003; 95% CI [.547, .883]).

An exploratory binary logistic regression method yielded different results. That method showed handgun-only owners were not any more or less likely to die by firearm than shotgun-only owners.

Multiple factors play into these results. Handguns are physically easier to handle and use than shotguns, the researchers propose, which may factor into the results. Also, shotgun owners may store those firearms at hunting lodges and/or with locking devices. Handguns, the researchers hypothesize, are mainly bought for protection.

A limitation of the study was the small sample size. Also, the researchers relied on third parties for information. In addition the study used convenience sampling to find survivors, which may have introduced bias.

“Continuing to refine our understanding of which individuals are most prone to utilizing which methods for suicide attempts will allow for improvement of means safety efforts by creating a path toward interventions that target optimal subgroups of individuals,” the researchers concluded. “Rather than simply relying upon broad variables (eg, firearm access), this type of work would allow us to allocate intervention resources more effectively by highlighting subgroups of individuals most likely to benefit from specific forms of prevention.”


Bond AE, Anestis M. Firearm type and number: Examining differences among firearm owning suicide decedents. Arch Suicide Res. Published online February 11, 2021. doi:10.1080/13811118.2021.1885536