Gun ownership and suicide

Georgie Stanford writes:

The thesis is the following:

(1) Worldwide suicide rates are essentially the same regardless
of political factors such as availability of firearms
when matched for age and sex. Worldwide these are about
1.5% in all whole populations except for 2).

Really?

From the UN demographic yearbook I computed percentages of deaths that
were suicides:

El Salvador 4%
Japan 2.5%
Fiji 2%
Korea 1.5%
Nicaragua 1%
Mexico 0.5%

There seems to be quite a bit of variation there.

(2) Males of northern European extraction have a higher total
suicide rate of about 2.5% regardless of political factors
such as availability of firearms. In whole populations
this is the only major exception.

If I understand you correctly, this means that a whole Northern
European population will have a suicide rate of 2% (1.5% for women and
2.5% for men). Let’s look at all the countries listed in the UN
demographic yearbook adjacent to the Baltic Sea:

Estonia 2%
Finland 3%
Germany 1.5%
Latvia 2%
Lithuania 2.5%
Poland 1.5%

Once again, there is quite a bit of variation.

(3) Other factors such as age, psychopathology et cetera
show subgroups within populations which have higher rates
(particularly advanced age, schizophrenia, manic depression
and substance abuse) but factors such as availability of
firearms do not affect the overall rates between the same
subgroups in different countries.

You might want to look at:

Killias “International correlations between gun ownership and
rates of homicide and suicide” Can Med Assoc J 1993; 148(10)
pp 1721-1725

Killias found a significant correlation between gun ownership and
suicide. Most of the countries looked at were in Northern Europe and
with similar demographics, so I doubt if controlling for the factors
you suggest above would make the correlation between guns ownership
and suicide go away.

(4) In countries with fewer guns the choice of tool for suicide
changes but not the overall rate of the entire population based
on race (per number 2) and subpopulations matched for age, sex
and psychopathology.

You might also want to look at:
Clark and Lester “Suicide : closing the exits” Springer NY 1989
which makes a case for availability of means for suicide affecting
overall suicide rates.

(I noticed you’ve not bothered to look up the Toronto suicide
data I previously mentioned but the onus is on you; it is clear
that the Toronto political experiment is the basis for my past
statement about shooters vs jumpers, that this is established
observation and not theory and studies on this and similar
occurrences are freely available through biomedical libraries and
databases.

Yes indeed. Specifically on the 78 Canadian law (which I believe you
are referring to) see Am J Psychiatry 151:4 606-608 (1994).
Abstract:

” To assess the impact of the 1978 Canadian gun control law on suicide
rates in Ontario, the authors compared firearm and non-firearm suicide
rates for 1965-1977 with those for 1979-1989. There was a decrease in
level and trend over time of firearm and total suicide rates and no
indication of substitution of other methods. These decreases may be
only partly due to the legislation.”

As I said before, I’m not asserting anything new. I’m merely
reciting material (which if not junior high school level is still
well within undergraduate range) which has been so well
documented elsewhere as to merely be an educational exercise.

I certainly do not consider the evidence on the subject to be at all
conclusive. However, I think it is incorrect to say that it is
well-established that gun availability (or availability of means in
general) has no effect.