Does owning a gun change your behavior?

Guns and Suicide

When you think of gun violence, you might picture a criminal wielding a 9 mm pistol at an unsuspecting victim or a homeowner using a shotgun to defend himself from an intruder, but the majority of gun deaths in the U.S. aren't from assaults but people using guns to take their own lives [source: Sapien]. In 2011, the most recent statistical year available, 19,766 people in the U.S. committed suicide with a firearm. Meanwhile, 11,101 committed homicide with a firearm [source: Hoyert and Xu].

In Mindy McCready's case, it's pretty easy to argue that without a gun she might have found some other way to take her life. Police also found bottles of prescription medications in her home [source: People Magazine].

But there is a connection between owning a gun and taking one's own life. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 2004 survey of gun violence research published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that gun owners who committed suicide were more likely to use their guns rather than other methods, like pills. A 1992 study cited in the CDC survey discovered that people with a gun in the home were five times more likely to commit suicide overall. And a large-scale, national 2003 study found that access to a gun made a person more than three times more likely to commit suicide than someone without firearms [source: Dahlberg, Ikeda and Kresnow].

Why would that be? Experts posit that suicide is often an impulsive act, occurring when a person is suffering an acute crisis. Eighty-five to 90 percent of people who shoot themselves succeed in dying, a much higher rate than with any other method of suicide. Arguably, if people did not have access to guns during that extreme period in their lives, it is likely they'd still be alive. In fact, the Israeli Defense Force found it lowered the suicide rate 40 percent among its soldiers simply by forbidding them from taking their weapons home over the weekend [source: Neyfakh].

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