Slate has a number of articles today on guns and violence including It’s Simple: Fewer Guns, Fewer Suicides by Justin Briggs and myself. The Slate article is based on our paper that I covered in an earlier post but here is some new material including one stunning fact that got cut from the Slate piece:
Suicide kills more people than all of the world’s armed conflicts combined.
and the results of two important natural experiments:
..our findings appear robust and are consistent with a series of “natural experiments” from around the world. For example, following the 1996 killing of 35 people in Port Arthur, Australia, a strong movement for gun control developed in Australia. States and territories made uniform and more stringent regulations for the possession of firearms, and instituted a buy-back of the newly illegal guns, most of which were rifles and shotguns. As Andrew Leigh and Christine Neill determined in a paper published in the American Law and Economics Review, these changes resulted in a reduction of the country’s firearm stock by 20 percent, or more than 650,000 firearms, and evidence suggests that it nearly halved the share of Australian households with one or more firearms. The effect of this reduction was an 80 percent fall in suicides by firearm, concentrated in regions with the biggest drop in firearms. Meanwhile there was little sign of any lasting rise in non-firearm suicides.
Suicide is a leading cause of death among adolescents and young adults, and limiting access to guns during those formative, sometimes unsteady years can have a real effect on suicides. In Israel most 18- to 21-year-olds are drafted into the Israeli Defense Forces and provided with military training—and weapons. Suicide among young IDF members is a serious problem. In an attempt to reduce suicides, the IDF tried a new policy in 2005, prohibiting most soldiers from bringing their weapons home over the weekends. Dr. Gad Lubin, the chief mental health officer for the IDF, and his co-authors estimate that this simple change reduced the total suicide rate among young IDF members by a stunning 40 percent. It’s worth noting that even though you might think that soldiers home for the weekend could easily delay suicide by a day or two, the authors did not find an increase in suicide rates during the weekdays. These results are consistent with interviews with near-fatal suicide survivors, who often say their decision was spontaneous and who typically go on to live long lives.
Our Slate article also includes a cost-benefit calculation that will probably upset many people.
Addendum: By popular demand Elsevier has given us a link to our research article, Firearms and Suicides in US states (pdf), that should work for everyone until late January.