Laws Limiting Gun Access Cut Teen Suicides

More than 300 lives saved, study finds

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HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Aug. 3, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Laws designed to keep guns away from young people reduce the risk that teenagers will kill themselves, a study finds.

In states with so-called child access prevention (CAP) laws, the suicide rate for youths aged 14 to 17 was 8.3 percent lower than in states without such laws, say researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The report appears in the Aug. 4 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Suicide is the third leading cause of death in the 10-to-19 age group, and as recently as 1994 seven of every 10 teen suicides involved firearms, the report noted. The decreased suicide rate in states with CAP laws was entirely due to a reduction in firearm deaths, the researchers said.

That is because a gun "is about the most lethal form of suicide," and "a large proportion of teen suicides are due to a kind of fleeting emotion," said study co-author Daniel W. Webster, co-director of the Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research.

If a gun is not available, a teenager in agony because of a failed exam or a breakup with a sweetheart might seek an alternative method of suicide, but "pills very rarely are successful," Webster said.

Eighteen states have CAP laws, which generally make it a crime to store firearms in a way that make them accessible to young people, often requiring that the guns be locked up. Such laws are among the less controversial issues in the field of gun control, Webster said.

"The vast majority of people support them, and the current administration and the current Attorney General, John Ashcroft, are funding a national campaign to encourage the safe storage of firearms," Webster said.

In addition, "even in states with a large population of gun owners and strong gun groups, you still see these laws passed," he said. States with CAP laws include Virginia, Nevada and Texas, Webster said, adding, "It's really all over the map."

The first CAP law was enacted in Florida in 1989. Since then, the laws have prevented a total of 333 suicides among teenagers, the researchers estimated.

"In 2001 alone, we estimate that there were 35 fewer suicides among this group in the 18 states with CAP laws than would have been expected without the laws," they said.

The researchers also studied the effect of two other youth-focused gun laws, setting a minimum age for purchase or possession of a firearm. They found no association between such laws and the incidence of teen suicide.

"This finding should not be particularly surprising, since other research indicates that most youth firearm suicides involve guns already owned by the victims' parents," said a statement by study co-author Jon Vernick, co-director of the Center for Gun Policy and Research at Hopkins.

More information

Read about how CAP laws work from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

SOURCES: Daniel W. Webster, Sc.D., co-director, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Center for Gun Policy and Research, Baltimore; Johns Hopkins University statement; Aug. 4, 2004, Journal of the American Medical Association

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