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Gun suicides outnumber gun homicides. In 1999, there were 16,599 gun suicides compared to 10,828 firearm homicides (National Center for Injury Prevention and Control). Guns were the most common method of suicide (57% in 1999).
If we could magically make all guns disappear, would the number of suicides decrease? Probably not. Excerpted from Dr. Gary Kleck's, Targeting Guns: Firearms and Their Control (p 285, Walter de Gruyter, Inc., New York 1997):The full body of relevant studies indicates that firearm availability measures are significantly and positively associated with rates of firearm suicide, but have no significant association with rates of total suicide.As further evidence that gun ownership is not correlated with total suicide rates see international violent death rate table. For example, Japan, where gun ownership is extremely low (less than 1% of households), total suicide is higher than in a high-gun ownership country like the United States.
Of thirteen studies, nine found a significant association between gun levels and rates of gun suicide, but only one found a significant association between gun levels and rates of total suicides. The only study to find a measure of "gun availability" significantly associated with total suicide...used a measure of gun availability known to be invalid.
This pattern of results supports the view that where guns are less common, there is complete substitution of other methods of suicide, and that, while gun levels influence the choice of suicide method, they have no effect on the number of people who die in suicides.
From 1972 to 1995 the per capita gun stock in the U. S. increased by more than 50%. Gary Kleck in Targeting Guns (p 265) comments on this huge increase: "This change might be viewed as a sort of inadvertent natural experiment, in which Americans launched a massive and unprecedented civilian armaments program, probably the largest in world history. During this same period, the U.S. suicide rate was virtually constant, fluctuating only slightly within the narrow range from 11.8 to 13.0 suicides per 100,000 population...At most...this huge increase in the gun stock might have caused a mild increase in the percentage of suicides committed with guns, which shifted from 53.3 in 1972 to 60.3 in 1994, and thus a mild corresponding increase in the gun suicide rate." (See gun supply chart).
In 1972 the suicide rate was 11.9 per 100,000. After this "arms build-up" the total suicide rate remained unchanged at 11.9 in 1995.