Ray, age 14, had made three suicide attempts prior to completing his suicide. Each time there had been someone there to stop him. He communicated often about his intent, remarking that “Life’s a bitch” and asking others about which way they thought it would be better to kill oneself. The day before his death, he asked his mother whether it would be better to stick a gun “in your mouth or in your temple?” He chose the latter, using a .357 Magnum that had been kept fully loaded, in his mother’s nightstand (Berman & Jobes, Adolescent Suicide: Assessment and Intervention, 1991:189).

Alcohol and illicit drug abuse in the home greatly increase the risk of violent death, including suicide (Rivara et al., 1997). Youth who were drinking at the time of their suicide were much more likely to use a gun than were youth who were not drinking (Brent et al., 1987b; Brent et al., 1993; Hlady and Middaugh, 1988). The increase in youth alcohol abuse and in firearms availability over the past 3 decades may be related to the increase in youth suicide in general, and in youth firearms suicide in specific. However, it is important to note that youth suicide has also dramatically increased in geographic regions where firearms ownership and firearms suicides are relatively rare (e.g., New Zealand; Beautrais et al., 1996). Therefore, it would be an oversimplification to say that the increase in youth suicide, in the United States, or anywhere else in the world, is solely a function of increased firearms availability.

Several studies (Beautrais et al., 1996; Brent et al., 1991; Brent et al., 1988; Kellermann et al., 1992) have demonstrated that the presence of a gun in the home is highly predictive of its use for completed suicide (see Table 8-1). Firearms were between 31.1 and 107.9 times more likely to be used for the suicide if a gun was already in the home. This was even true in New Zealand, where firearms is a much less common method choice

TABLE 8-1 Case-Control Studies: Guns in the Home and the Method of Suicide


Brent 1993

Kellerman 1992

Beautrais 1996

Use of gun if kept in home




Use of gun if not kept in home




Guns in home and firearms as method (Odds Ratio [OR])




Firearms and alcohol use (OR [95%CI])


Bought gun within two weeks of suicide


The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001

Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement