NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Guns Figure More Often In Suicides Than Homicides

October 18, 1999

The number of Americans who use guns to commit suicide far surpasses those who are killed by others with firearms, according to the National Vital Statistics Report.

  • In 1997, guns were used in 17,566 suicides, compared to 13,522 homicides.
  • Some 60 percent of the 30,000 Americans who take their own lives each year do so through firearms, according to Kay Redfield Jamison, a professor of psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and author of "Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide."
  • The professor reports that 90 to 95 percent of people who commit suicide have a diagnosable psychiatric illness.
  • Also, the number of young people who kill themselves in the U.S. has tripled since the 1950s.

Experts say the stigma and taboo attached to suicide have kept the problem out of public discussion, although that is beginning to change. This month the Labor, Health and Human Services subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee will hold the first congressional hearings on suicide.

U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher says that the suicide rate among black youths ages 10 to 19 -- which had traditionally been lower than that for white youngsters -- has more than doubled since 1980. The rate had been 2.1 per 100,000 in 1980. It rose to 4.5 per 100,000 by 1995.

Source: Fox Butterfield, "Guns Used More for Suicide Than Homicide," New York Times, October 17, 1999.


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