Access to Firearms Linked to Elevated Mortality Risk

February 10, 2014

Access to Firearms Linked to Elevated Mortality Risk

  1. Kelly Young, Physician's First Watch

Firearm access in the U.S. is associated with increased risk for death, both by suicide and homicide.

  1. Kelly Young, Physician's First Watch

In a new meta-analysis, researchers analyzed the results of 15 observational studies that looked at firearm ownership or availability in the home. People with access to firearms had an increased risk for suicide (pooled odds ratio, 3.24), compared with people without access. Firearm access was also associated with being the victim of a homicide (pooled OR, 1.94), and for women, the risk was even higher (OR, 2.84).

An editorialist says that the meta-analysis likely underestimates mortality from firearm access because the authors did not include population-level studies.

Comment— Psychiatry

  1. Peter Roy-Byrne, MD

That suicide is associated with firearms access is consistent with evidence that means restriction is one of only two scientifically proven suicide-prevention strategies (the other is improved recognition and treatment of depression). The study's high odds ratios are impressive and, as the editorialist suggests, likely underestimates.

Helmet laws have reduced motorcycle and bicycle head injuries and morbidity, more than education about the rules of the road, and it is almost certain that firearms restriction would reduce rates of suicide more than simple gun education (e.g., locking up and unloading firearms) has been proven to do. One recent study (Depress Anxiety 2013; 30:1013) revealed the surprising finding that some clinicians most likely to encounter serious suicide risk — physicians and nurses in the emergency department — were not sufficiently aware of the evidence for this link to routinely inquire about firearm access. If clinicians who are expected to know the state of the science do not accept this link, how is the lay public supposed to become adequately informed to advocate for firearm restrictions as a valid strategy to prevent suicide?

Editor Disclosures at Time of Publication

  • Disclosures for Peter Roy-Byrne, MD at time of publication Equity Valant Medical Solutions Grant / research support NIH-NIDA; NIH-NIMH Editorial boards Depression and Anxiety; UpToDate Leadership positions in professional societies Anxiety Disorders Association of America (Ex-Officio Board Member); Washington State Psychiatric Society (Treasurer)


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