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Role of Firearm Ownership on 2001–2016 Trends in U.S. Firearm Suicide Rates

      Introduction

      In the U.S., state-level household firearm ownership is strongly associated with firearm suicide mortality rates. Whether the recent increases in firearm suicide are explained by state-level household firearm ownership rates and trends remains unknown.

      Methods

      Mortality data from the U.S. National Vital Statistics System and an estimate of state-level household firearm ownership rate were used to conduct hierarchical age–period–cohort (random-effects) modeling of firearm suicide mortality between 2001 and 2016. Models were adjusted for individual-level race and sex and for state-level poverty rate, unemployment rate, median household income in U.S. dollars, population density, and elevation.

      Results

      Between 2001 and 2016, the crude national firearm suicide mortality rate increased from 6.8 to 8.0 per 100,000, and household firearm ownership rate remained relatively stable, at around 40%. Both variables were markedly heterogeneous and correlated at the state level. Age–period–cohort models revealed period effects (affecting people across ages) and cohort effects (affecting specific birth cohorts) underlying the recent increases in firearm suicide. Individuals born after 2000 had higher firearm suicide rates than most cohorts born before. A 2001–2006 decreasing period effect was followed, after 2009, by an increasing period effect that peaked in 2015. State-level household firearm ownership rates and trends did not explain cohort effects and only minimally explained period effects.

      Conclusions

      State-level firearm ownership rates largely explain the state-level differences in firearm suicide but only marginally explain recent increases in firearm suicide. Although firearms in the home increase firearm suicide risk, the recent national rise in firearm suicide might be the result of broader, more distal causes of suicide risk.
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