States with Higher Gun Ownership and Weak Gun Laws Lead Nation in Suicide While States with Lower Gun Ownership and Strong Gun Laws Have Lowest Suicide Rates

New VPC Analysis Released During National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month in September

Washington, DC — States with higher rates of gun ownership and weak gun violence prevention laws have the highest overall suicide rates in the nation, while states with lower gun ownership rates and strong gun laws have the lowest suicide rates, according to a Violence Policy Center (VPC) analysis of 2017 data (the most recent year available) from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.

The tables below list the five states with the highest and lowest overall suicide rates in 2017 and include for each state its gun suicide rate, total number of suicides and gun suicides, percentage of suicides that involved a gun, and household gun ownership. A similar table for all 50 states ranked by overall suicide rate is available at http://vpc.org/state-overall-suicide-rates-ranked-by-rate-2017/.

The state with the highest overall suicide rate in the nation in 2017 was Montana (29.61 suicides per 100,000 residents), which also had the highest gun suicide rate (20.28 gun suicides per 100,000 residents). Wyoming ranked second (27.10 suicides per 100,000 residents) and had the second highest gun suicide rate (17.09 gun suicides per 100,000 residents). Alaska ranked third (27.03 suicides per 100,000 residents) and had the third highest gun suicide rate (16.09 gun suicides per 100,000 residents). In each of these three states guns were used in 60 percent or more of the suicides reported that year. Each of these states has extremely lax gun violence prevention laws as well as a higher rate of gun ownership.

 

The Five States with the Highest Suicide Rates Ranked by Overall Suicide Rate

Rank

State

Overall Suicide Rate per 100,000

Gun
Suicide Rate per 100,000

Overall Number of Suicides

Number of
Gun Suicides

Percentage of Suicides Involving Guns

Household Gun Ownership in State

1

 

Montana

 

29.61

20.28

311

213

68%

65.9%

2

 

Wyoming

 

27.10

17.09

157

99

63%

68.8%

3

 

Alaska

 

27.03

16.09

200

119

60%

54.6%

4

 

New Mexico

 

23.51

12.50

491

261

53%

37.0%

5

 

Idaho

 

22.83

14.21

392

244

62%

57.4%

 

The state with the lowest overall suicide rate in 2017 was New York (8.54 suicides per 100,000 residents) with a gun suicide rate of 2.18 gun suicides per 100,000 residents. New Jersey ranked second lowest (overall suicide rate of 8.83 suicides per 100,000 residents) and had a gun suicide rate of 2.27 gun suicides per 100,000 residents. Massachusetts ranked third lowest (overall suicide rate of 9.94 suicides per 100,000 residents) and had a gun suicide rate of 2.22 gun suicides per 100,000 residents. In each of these three states guns were used in 26 percent or fewer of the suicides reported that year. Each of these states has strong gun violence prevention laws as well as a lower rate of gun ownership.

 

The Five States with the Lowest Suicide Rates Ranked by Overall Suicide Rate

Rank

State

Overall Suicide Rate per 100,000

Gun
Suicide Rate per 100,000

Overall Number of Suicides

Number of
Gun Suicides

Percentage of Suicides Involving Guns

Household Gun Ownership in State

50

 

New York

 

8.54

2.18

1,696

433

26%

20.5%

49

 

New Jersey

 

8.83

2.27

795

204

26%

15.2%

48

 

Massachusetts

 

9.94

2.22

682

152

22%

12.5%

47

 

Maryland

 

10.41

4.48

630

271

43%

29.6%

46

 

California

 

10.91

4.07

4,312

1,610

37%

25.1%

 

VPC Executive Director Josh Sugarmann states, “Guns are the means that drive overall suicide rates higher. This is because the use of a firearm is the key factor in whether a suicide attempt is completed or not. Suicide is the most common type of gun death in America. Reducing access to firearms is a critical step in addressing this clear and growing public health threat.”

As shown in the VPC’s Guns and Suicide fact sheet (http://vpc.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/suicide-factsheet-2019.pdf), in 2017, the national overall suicide rate was 14.48 per 100,000 and the gun suicide rate was 7.32 per 100,000. That year there were 47,173 suicides in the United States: 129 suicides per day; one suicide every 11.1 minutes. More than half (50.6 percent) of these were firearm suicides, which totaled 23,854 in 2017.

State suicide and gun suicide rates are calculated by dividing the number of relevant suicide deaths by the total state population and multiplying the result by 100,000 to obtain the rate per 100,000, which is the standard and accepted method for comparing fatal levels of gun violence.

The VPC defined states with “weak” gun violence prevention laws as those that add little or nothing to federal law and have permissive laws governing the open or concealed carrying of firearms in public. States with “strong” gun violence prevention laws were defined as those that add significant state regulation that is absent from federal law, such as restricting access to particularly hazardous and deadly types of firearms (for example, assault weapons), setting minimum safety standards for firearms and/or requiring a permit to purchase a firearm, and restricting the open and concealed carrying of firearms in public.

State gun ownership rates were obtained from “Firearm Ownership and Domestic Versus Nondomestic Homicide in the U.S.,” Aaron J. Kivisto, PhD, Lauren A. Magee, PhD, Peter L. Phalen, PsyD, Bradley R. Ray, PhD, American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 2019 (in press), which is the most recent comprehensive published data available on state gun ownership.

The Violence Policy Center (www.vpc.org) is a national nonprofit educational organization that conducts research and public education on violence in America and provides information and analysis to policymakers, journalists, advocates, and the general public. Follow the Violence Policy Center on Facebook and follow @VPCinfo on Twitter.

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