New Study Looks at Data on Types of Firearms Used in Firearm Suicides

New Study Looks at Data on Types of Firearms Used in Firearm Suicides

By: Alexandra de Leon Date: October 7th, 2020

Firearms were used in approximately 50.6% of suicide deaths in the U.S. in 2018 (CDC). Yet information about the type of firearm used in firearm deaths is limited, inhibiting both expert and legislature ability to design solutions to this growing public health problem.

Researchers at the Harborview Injury Prevention & Research Center (HIPRC), UW Medicine, the Department of Epidemiology of the University of Washington School of Public Health, and Seattle Children’s Research Institute have conducted a county-level analysis on the type of firearm documented for each firearm suicide using data on suicide deaths from the National Vital Statistics System (NVSS) mortality files from 1980-2017. The study was published October 1, 2020 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

“Many firearm policies only apply to specific types of firearms, so it’s difficult to accurately measure the effect of a policy without knowing how many of those firearm deaths involved a gun subject to the policy,” lead author and HIPRC member Alice M. Ellyson, MS, PhD says.

Their research found the average annual proportion of firearm suicides between 1980 and 2017:

  • with an unspecified firearm type was 62%
  • with firearm suicides specified as handgun rose from, 14% in 1980, to 26% in 2017
  • with firearm suicides classified as long gun decreased from 19% in 1980 to 12% in 2017

Their findings also document vast differences in the proportion of firearm suicides classified with an unspecified firearm type by jurisdictions across the United States. In 38 states, more than half of recorded firearm suicides from 1980 to 2017 were classified with an unspecified firearm type.

The National Violent Death Reporting System seeks to improve on violent death reporting, but so far has limited availability over time and is not available in every state. These deficiencies in both NVSS and National Violent Death Reporting System data highlight the key limitations in evaluating the impact of firearm legislation on firearm death.

“There is a critical need to improve information available to researchers and develop methods that can enhance the precision of firearm policy evaluations,” Ellyson says. She adds, “These improvements would enable more rigorous and refined approaches to understanding the policy implications of firearm laws that only apply to certain types of firearms.”

Researchers in this study were a part of HIPRC’s Firearm Injury & Policy Research Program. The group’s mission is to reduce the impact of firearm injury and death on people’s lives through interdisciplinary research and collaboration with institutional, community, and governmental partners.

This study was funded by the State of Washington.

For the complete study, click here.


Do you need help right now? Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1.800.273.TALK.