Researchers found people who lived in homes with
firearms were between two and three times more likely to die from
either cause, compared to those who lived in homes without guns.
"There have been a lot of conflicting reports about having a firearm
in the home," Andrew Anglemyer said. He is the study's lead author
and an epidemiologist from the University of California, San
Anglemyer and his coauthors write in the Annals of Internal Medicine
on Monday that the U.S. has the highest prevalence of gun ownership
in the world, and the majority of suicides and murders are committed
For the new review, the researchers analyzed 14 studies that looked
at the risk of committing suicide among people who did and didn't
have access to guns and five studies that looked at gun access and
the risk of being murdered. Four of the studies examined both
suicide and murder risk.
The studies were published between 1988 and 2005. All but one found
people with access to firearms had heightened risks of dying from
suicide and murder.
"Most analyses will find some conflicting studies," Anglemyer told
Reuters Health. "That's not at all what we see here."
The researchers found having access to a gun was tied to a
three-fold increase in the likelihood that people would kill
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., according to
the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). About 12 out
of every 100,000 people commit suicide each year.
Anglemyer's team also found about a two-fold increased risk of death
from murder among people who had access to a gun, compared to those
without access to firearms. For women, the increased risk of being
killed was even higher.
The death rate due to murder in the U.S. is about five per 100,000
people each year, according to the CDC.
Anglemyer and his colleagues write that previous studies have
suggested rates of suicide and murder may be higher in areas with a
high prevalence of gun ownership because people who commit those
acts on impulse have an easier time getting a gun there.
In an email to Reuters Health, Dr. Brian Smith and Rose Cheney from
the University of Pennsylvania Health System in Philadelphia wrote
that firearms are efficiently lethal — even during brief moments of
anger, rage and depression.
"The lethality of the weapons drives the increased risk of suicide
and homicide completion," they wrote. "Firearms have very high case
fatality rates, particularly in the case of suicide. Guns leave very
little room for reconsideration of the choice to end a life."
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Smith is a fellow in the Division of Traumatology and Cheney is
executive director of the Firearm and Injury Center at Penn.
In an accompanying editorial, David Hemenway writes that gun access
may not have increased the likelihood of death from homicide as much
as suicide because most people are not murdered with their own gun.
Hemenway is an expert on injury prevention at the Harvard School of
Public Health in Boston.
He also told Reuters Health the new analysis may underestimate the
relationship between gun access and deaths because it only included
studies comparing individuals and not large populations. But he
agreed with the main finding.
"I would argue that there's not nearly enough research in the
firearm area," Hemenway said. "But if there is one thing we know,
The researchers point out the analysis is only as reliable as the
studies themselves, and some could have been flawed in the way they
collected information on deaths and gun ownership.
Anglemyer said the review is about understanding the risk of owning
a gun — just like people should know the risks when buying alcohol
"This is about understanding personal risk and considering those
risks when an individual chooses to own a firearm," he said.
Smith and Cheney also said households should have comprehensive
plans to address specific household risks related to impulsive use.
"Weapons that are stored unloaded and outside of the household seem
to pose the lowest risk of suicide and homicide," they wrote. "As
such avenues must be made available to promote this option, thereby
focusing on the safety of the household and all members of the
Internal Medicine, online Jan. 20, 2014.
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