Monday, June 30, 2008

More Than Half of Gun Deaths Are Suicides

In 2005, according to CDC statistics, 55% of gun deaths were suicides. Apparently, suicides have outnumbered homicides and accidental deaths by gun for 20 of the past 25 years. An interesting and surprising statistic. But what's missing from this article by Mike Stobbe, released in the wake of the United States Supreme Court decision interpreting the Second Amendment as a personal right to bear arms?

First, and most importantly, it's missing any hint that a perspective might exist recognizing a right to suicide. Second, it fails to provide a single reason justifying the paternalism underlying gun bans enacted to prevent suicide in particular ("You can't have a gun because you might use it to kill yourself"). And, third, there's something glaringly missing from the recital of success rates for different suicide methods:
More than 90 percent of suicide attempts using guns are successful, while the success rate for jumping from high places was 34 percent. The success rate for drug overdose was 2 percent, the brief said, citing studies.

"Other methods are not as lethal," said Jon Vernick, co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research in Baltimore.

That's right - no mention of hanging, which has a lethality rate of up to 70%. Mention of this fact might have undermined the political point Stobbe was trying to make. (The article also fails to address the paradoxically high suicide rate in gun-free Japan - over twice that of the United States.)

As I have previously written, there is some evidence that reducing guns correlates to reducing suicides. What I object to is taking the "more guns means more suicide" statistic as license to argue in favor of coercive suicide prevention policies, such as gun bans, without examining in the slightest the philosophical basis for such a policy.


  1. I agree with your take on this entirely. Do you happen to know the suicide-to-homicide ratio for Scandinavian countries, where rates of gun ownership and suicide are relatively high?

  2. I've looked around for it and haven't been able to find the data. It would be interesting if the ratio of gun suicide to gun homicide varied widely by countries with similar overall rates of gun ownership.

    To the credit of the Internet public, lots of the comments I've seen on this story so far have been about the paternalism thing - gun control to prevent suicide is somehow more objectionable than gun control to prevent homicides. But I have yet to see anybody be like "hey d'ya think there might be a right to suicide?"

    Guns have a constituency. Suicide rights don't. The gun/suicide issue is a place where the forced life folks can convince even people who think of themselves as liberals to gang up on their side - out of compassion, to be sure.


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