Gun suicides rose 11% in past decade, linked to cities with lax gun policies: New research

Advocates say the statistics support their argument for gun control.

September 8, 2022, 10:36 AM

The number of suicides committed with firearms increased about 11% from 2010 to 2020 in much of the United States and was driven primarily by deaths in cities and states with more relaxed gun policies, according to new research first obtained by ABC News.

Researchers from New York University's Langone's City Heath Dashboard and Everytown for Gun Safety, a leading gun control advocacy organization, released a report Thursday tracking the growing rate of suicides by firearm, which already make up the bulk of gun deaths in the U.S.

The data analyzed in the report spans 2010 to 2020 and comes from 752 cities with populations of 50,000 or more across the country.

Adjusted for population, there were 5.3 gun suicides for every 100,000 people on average between 2010 and 2014 and 5.9 per 100,000 in 2016 to 2020, the report shows.

Everytown said the statistics support its argument for gun control. (Opponents of such restrictions say they're unconstitutional and ineffective.)

"We know that stronger gun laws save lives," Everytown's deputy research director, Megan O'Toole, told ABC News. "And this data demonstrates the importance of local legislation in preventing gun violence in cities specifically through addressing suicides."

In addition to areas with less strict gun laws, cities with fewer walkable areas where residents are more isolated are more prone to higher rates of gun suicide, according to the report.

PHOTO: An undated stock photo of guns.
An undated stock photo of guns.
STOCK PHOTO/Getty Images

While much public attention has focused on gun homicides, the rate of suicides has also grown throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Data inaccessibility in the past was really what was preventing us from recognizing the scope of this problem," O'Toole said.

Suicide by gun routinely leads other categories of firearm deaths, including malicious and accidental shootings. There were 23,941 gun suicides in 2019 compared to 15,448 willful, malicious and accidental shooting deaths that same year, according to the Gun Violence Archive.

The Everytown and NYU report relies on data at the city level collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which provides accredited researchers like those at NYU with special access to analyze trends. The correlation between gun policy and higher gun suicide rates was made based on Everytown's ranking of states with varying degrees of gun laws.

PHOTO: A teen is seen in this undated stock photo.
A teen is seen in this undated stock photo.
STOCK PHOTO/Getty Images

Everytown's ranking focuses on how states enacted a list of 50 laws encompassing a swath of gun measures -- including storage requirements; regulations for permits and background checks; variations on "red flag" laws, which make it easier for authorities to temporarily restrict firearm purchases for those deemed to be a potential threat to themselves or others; and more.

Gun shop owners can also have a role in curbing the number of firearm suicides, O'Toole told ABC, by engaging in educational campaigns and learning to identify certain signs of mental distress.

"Another thing that we point to is the role of other community leaders like barbers and beauticians, who can be credible messengers in recognizing and preventing gun suicides as well," O'Toole said.

Free support to those facing a suicidal crisis is available by calling the newly recreated three-digit National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 988 or 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

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