Thursday, April 28, 2022

Suicide Rate Among Women Increases When Gun Added to Home

The rate of suicide among women living in previously handgun-free homes increased substantially when a cohabitant acquired a handgun, according to a study published yesterday in JAMA Psychiatry.

“Little is known about how secondhand exposure to firearms affects nonowners, especially with respect to suicide, which is the leading cause of violent death and of death by firearms in the U.S. for both women and men,” Matthew Miller, M.D., M.P.H., of Northeastern University and colleagues wrote. The authors noted that millions of people have purchased guns since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Miller and colleagues conducted an observational cohort study involving 9.5 million adult women (average age, 41.6 years) in California who did not own guns. The authors gathered data from the LongSHOT database, which linked lawful handgun transactions from California’s Dealer Record of Sale (DROS) database with the California Statewide Voter Registration Database (SVRD) and all-cause mortality data from the California Death Statistical Master Files. The authors formed households by matching LongSHOT members who resided at the same address during the same period.

All participants resided in households with one, two, or three other adults, none of whom owned handguns at the start of the study. The participants were followed from October 18, 2004, to December 31, 2016, during which time the authors used DROS and SVRD data to determine if a cohabitant had purchased a handgun during the study period.

Over 331,000 women (3.5%) lived with someone who acquired a handgun during the study period. Of the nearly 295,000 women in the study who died during that time, 2,197 of the participants died by suicide, 337 (15%) of which involved a firearm.

The rate of death by suicide among the participants increased significantly after a cohabitant acquired a handgun—48% of suicides involved a firearm. Comparatively, only 14% of suicides among women not residing in a home with a handgun owner were suicides by firearm. The excess rate of firearm suicide among cohabitants of handgun owners was evident shortly after the handgun was purchased, the authors found, and persisted as long as the household contained at least one handgun.

“To our knowledge, this study is the first to estimate the association between secondary exposure to household firearms and the rate of suicide among women who do not own handguns,” the authors concluded. “Our estimate that the rate increased by a relative 50% is a statistic that may be of interest to the millions of women who currently do not own guns but reside with other adults who do, to the gun owners with whom they live, and to the tens of millions of other women who currently live in gun-free homes with other adults who may be thinking about buying a handgun.”

For related information, see the Psychiatric News article “How to Reduce Risk of Suicide by Firearms.”

(Image: iStock/ventdusud)

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