Guns, Suicides and Natural Experiments

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.


"Suicide kills more people than all of the world’s armed conflicts combined."

I don't think a suicide is directly comparable to a death from violence. A person committing suicide is already on the margin of wanting to die, so even if he's highly irrational in wanting to die, his death probably bring much less loss of utility than a typical person's death. On the other hand the typical victim of violence is probably much closer to the typical person who really, really doesn't want to die. Plus throw in the fact that victims of suicide are usually significantly older than victims of violence.

Altogether preventing each suicide results in much fewer QALYs than preventing homicides.

DId you read the Slate article before commenting? Because both your objections about being "on the margin of wanting to die" and age were addressed in just one paragraph there. Yes, more old people commit suicide. But so do more young people. Relevant paragraph:
"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."

You just know that some smarmy gun-nut is going to argue that weekends, not guns, are the culprit.

OK, I am not even a gun owner, but I will bite. If the frequency of suicides ticks up on weekends, there may be an underlying cause, which is definitely worth investigating.

Yes, but would you rather ban alcohol & parties or soldiers carrying home guns? Or would you abolish loneliness & change by diktat via just rescinding the privilege of soldiers going home for weekends totally?

I would say, Rahul, that the whole ban, diktat, abolish and rescind approach is fatally flawed - especially when it comes to problems which are psychological in nature.

You can't really ban whatever happens in human head. Identifying the personalities at risk and counseling seems to me the best approach. After all, it is the military and it has every reason to spare lives of its soldiers while keeping them able to use weapons at need.

(Note that in the 1960s, the existential threat in Israel was so huge that the overal balance of risks would never lead to banning the soldiers to take guns home).

"Fatally flawed?" Perhaps an unfortunate choice of words, given that Alex's post shows the statistics going the other way.

But more than that, let's go all the way out to the "worst" forms of gun control imaginable, and by that I mean life in Australia, or Canada, or Great Britain. Can you say honestly that you could never be happy or have a productive life in those countries?

If Australia, or Canada, or Great Britain are not oppressive hell holes, this whole slippery slope thing falls apart, doesn't it?

(Personally I can imagine a happy life in any of those, and so their forms of gun control don't seem frightening to me.)

"Fatally flawed" with regard to long-time efficiency. Not in the sense that the society is unlivable, no.

Excuse me, since when one person's "unsteadiness" can be sufficient reason to curtail rights of all?
Stop minding other people's business.

The men I know who own hand guns are less stable mentally then the men who don't own hand guns. I am all in favor of a complete ban on handguns.

The point about old people and suicide is to point out that people don't care about old people. "That's right old people, commit suicide and stop being a burden to society whereas teenagers are the future."

On the other hand, why necessarily care that "suicide is one of the leading causes of death amongst teens and young people" when it Is known teens are not necessarily more suicidal than other age groups? Suicide is always going to be one of leading causes of death because teens/youths are in the group least likely to die from natural causes.

"his death probably bring much less loss of utility"

To whom?

Mr. Market

I doubt it. A lot of suicide attempts are be extremely high IQ / creative / productive people.

In the absence of the suicide the Market may gain great utility out of them.

The question is, and I seriously ponder this (not a joke, not at all), whether being depressive is part of the lot of highly creative people.

It is not "en vogue" to even use expression such as "lot" nowadays, when the culture seems to be persuaded that everything can be changed somehow, but major depression seems to be quite correlated to high intelligence and creativity.

Maybe those two things just go together.

@Marian Kechlibar

Maybe. I don't know if there's data that proves it but sure does seem that way.

OTOH there might be a selection bias: High IQ, creative people are just more likely to be in social positions where their death is noticed more.

In any case, does it detract from the underlying point that it's absolutely silly to assume a suicide causes no loss of utility to society?

"victim of suicide" is a non sequitur.

no, it's just a redundancy

I do not feel this way. At least the analogy with other basic crimes does not hold.

Masturbation isn't self-rape and the person isn't victim thereof. Not even if they are legal minor or under age of consent.
Travelling isn't self-kidnapping and the person isn't victim thereof.
Spending money isn't self-robbery and the person isn't victim thereof.
So why should killing oneself be an exception and constitute a self-murder, where the person is victim thereof?

I would say that this is legacy of Abrahamic religions and their value system. Even lifelong atheists are still influenced by them, not least by having to define their life philosophy against the religious positions.

You try way too hard. Why?

(The jump from self-love to self-rape, seriously?)

Where's the "hate" button?

So how do you explain the cross country comparisons with Japan or Canada. Canada has similar suicide rate to U.S. but fewer guns. And Japan and South Korea have huge suicide rate and no guns ?

Guns matter but they are not the only thing that matters.

Good post, Alex. I've seen similar studies, and accept them. As I've said in other threads, I actually like the Australian system. Of course, we are a long way politically from application forms with "intents of use." Probably the best thing we can do in the US is encourage safe storage and increased responsibility. I think guns should be in a safe and only the head of household should know the combination. That head of household should understand the responsibility.

Seeing a suicide rate two to three times higher than the US in Japan and South Korea, nations with virtually no private gun ownership, tells me there are factors with orders of magnitude higher influence on suicide rate than guns. So it seems like we are trying to quantify a ripple on a tidal wave.

Just glancing at the study, I see the period you're looking at covers from 1985 until roughly the present (am I correct?). Do you plan to expand your work to cover any periods before then: assuming the data is good enough. It would be particularly interesting to see what the relationship between guns and suicides were when crime was lower -- through the mid 60s, but firearms ownership is generally acknowledged to have been more widespread than now. The relationship between the rate and various gun control benchmarks (legislation in 1934 and 1968 particularly) would also be of interest.

In short, was this relationship always there? How relative is it to other factors?

Culture obviously has a powerful effect on suicide rates, and guns are obviously not the only way to kill yourself. But the data suggest that within a given culture, reductions in gun access will decrease both firearm and overall suicide numbers.

Are you suggesting that Canada has a drastically different culture than the U.S. that somehow induces people to commit more suicides, all things being equal ?

Dismissing evidence from other countries as "culture" without specifying what is meant by that quantitatively is bad econometrics.

Suicide rates are positively correlated with latitude. No cultural explanation required.

Oh Please. US Northeast has some of the lowest suicide rates in the U.S

I would disagree.

The former President of Czechoslovakia, T.G.Masaryk, studied suicide in Czechia (as of the 1870s) quite thoroughly. The country is small and differences in latitude were minimal.

In the 1870s, it was also quite religiously diverse, and there was an obvious pattern of high suicidality among Protestants, much lower among Catholics and virtually none among Jews.

So yes, culture is probably a factor as well.

I suspect it's a little more complicated than that:

Black suicide rates are less than half white suicide rates, but when it comes to *criminal* violence with guns those numbers are flipped (at least). If firearms really did, ceteris paribus, increase suicides wouldn't there be good reason to believe those suicide rates would be more or less equal?

If Japan magically liberalized its gun laws would the suicide rate go up? Japan has a suicide nearly twice ours per capita, and a gun-control regime that leaves a lot of Europe in the dust.. I would think at some point a given society reaches a saturation point on suicidal ideation.

Rational people think on the margin.

+1 This couldn't be mentioned too often.

Shaping metal in a certain way only has these magical effects on caucasians. Apparently, East Asians have some sort of natural resistence to this form of magic.

What kind of moral right does the society have to prevent people from killing themselves? I think that unless the person is seriously psychotical, pretty much none. It smells of the "you're property of the state" approach.

Can anybody with straight face claim that it is moral and virtuous to prevent someone with terminal cancer to die by their own hand and instead force him to live to the very painful bitter end, in the meantime spending money he might want to bequeath to his kids?

The same problem I see with forced feeding in prisons. This is wrong and shouldn't be done, period. If someone wishes to die, let them do it.

Did you even read the article before spouting libertarian sounding mishmash?

This isn't about being able to choose euthanasia; it's mostly about depressed teenagers/young people. Those don't have terminal cancers.

1. Some of them do.
2. As the usual policy answer is "take guns away across the board", it does not really matter.

Unless you suggest some kind of policy where ill people over 60 get easier access to guns than all the others, the consequences will be hard precisely for those who I mentioned.

BTW I am not sure what struck your nerve, perhaps you had some painful suicide in your family; but you're usually beyond using expressions like "libertarian sounding mishmash". I consider what I wrote to be quite libertarian, not just "libertarian sounding", and pretty consistent. You may not agree with the viewpoint, but calling the text itself mishmash is pretty much ad hominem.


I think there's a couple of flaws in your reasoning. First, most people would draw a distinction between a terminal cancer patient & say a bullied teenager. Wouldn't you?

Merely liberalizing gun access as a legitimate way of ending pain has the subtlety of a bulldozer. You may give that one terminal patient his relief while precipitating a factor more of unnecessary deaths. Why not channel your angst to more nuanced solution like medical euthanasia which allow the "deserving" cases to end lives while avoiding the collateral damage?

Even worse, ending your life with a gun, needs a certain temperament, access & opportunity that a major portion of terminal patients may not have. Ergo, an alternative solution is really a win-win.

As an analogy, just because there are some legitimate uses of dynamite doesn't mean we allow every one to buy it at their corner store.

@Rahul, all good points, but here are counterpoints of mine.

A bullied teenager is one thing, a teenager with serious endogenous depression is another one. I think that too many adults overlook the fact that a youngster may kill themselves after as much deliberation as a 50-y.o., because the thought itself is too discomforting.

Though I am generally for medical euthanasia, its real-world implementation are far from sufficient, because everyone and their dog seems to be eager to take part in the decision process. This is a highly emotionally and religiously loaded theme, and even if legislated into existence, it will still contain a lot of "checks and balances" whose real sense is not to constitute checks and balances, but to soothe the conscience of the legislators and spread the guilt around into a sufficiently thin layer. As long as a committee or an office has to approve your decision to die as "worthy enough", the system is seriously flawed and a lot of people will suffer unnecessarily. I can well imagine a bigot of Comstock type in the decision-making position, who routinely rejects all the applicants in the name of his own religious views, and forces them either to die naturally or to go through lengthy appeal processes. Such things happen, have happened and will happen with all the permit-based privileges.

>First, most people would draw a distinction between a terminal cancer patient & say a bullied teenager. Wouldn’t you?

I would say it's not your place to make any such distinction in the first place.

No, I think medical euthanasia/assisted suicide should be legal. That'd deal with your point about the right of people suffering from a terminal disease and wishing to die without allowing teenagers/young adults going through a difficult phase to kill themselves so easily and so successfully.

Wrt the 'ad hominem', you're right and I apologise - sort of. I think that libertarians can be callous on such issues in their desire for the purest of the pure freedoms and their refusal to consider that people are not always rational and/or perfectly in control of their emotions and actions and nonetheless deserve a society that helps them avoid costly mistakes.

But I did use inflammatory language for no good reason, except to pick up a fight. So, yes, you're right and I apologise again.

Your sincere apologies are accepted. I have some flamewar days as well, though in my case, they are typically Mondays, not Fridays :-D

As for the rationality of human beings, well, that is one of my pet observations. Although I am a stereotypical freedom worshipper, I am very well aware that people do quite often act contrary to their self-interest.

A good popular example for common consumption is the Mayday series, which attempts to reconstruct aircraft emergencies. More often than not it turns out that some serious negligence / sloppy work was at the root of the problem, sometimes of the maintenance workers, sometimes of the management, sometimes of the pilots themselves. It is in no one's rational interest to see airplanes fall from the sky (and deal with the media fallout), but people around them still cheat on their precisely described duties.

One of the reasons why things like that happen is that 99,9% of the time, there are no consequences to the laziness / irrationality.

My grandpa used to be an engine driver by the railways, and a very careful one. He had his share of hair-rising stories, though. Almost always caused by human factors, someone sleeping/drinking on duty etc.

Marian, but then why are there "near-fatal suicide survivors, who often say their decision was spontaneous and who typically go on to live long lives"? If it was truly their "wish" they would have kept trying, right? Now, you may have hit on the exception in 'right to die' with terminal, end of life conditions ... but I got fired, my girlfriend cheated on me, etc. is NOT a terminal condition though it may feel like it for newbies. We can't stop someone from killing themselves (or even checking out of life) but there is no reason why we have to lower the cost (easy access to guns) ... or tell them it's his or her choice and we simply don't care.

Claudia, your points are good.

That said, this is a deeper societal problem of "what to do with very impulsive people". I would say that the gun question is a tiny subset, if not outright distraction. Said mentally unstable young person, instead of shooting himself, may go onto a spree of risky sexual behavior and leave a trail of fresh HIV infections across the continent (see: Gaetan Dugas, the famous Patient Zero from Quebec). This isn't as visible and scandalous as a youngster with his brains on the wall, but the consequences are very dire nevertheless. To limit your scope of interest to the very act of impulsive suicide is quite an error.

And no, I do not think that drugging youngsters with Ritalin as soon as they raise their voice is a good idea.

Marian, I agree that limiting access to guns does not necessarily "solve" the problem ... time does not heal all wounds for all people. But I don't think individuals who commit or attempt suicide are that special (it's a more brazen form of other self-destructuve cries for help as OneEyedMan noted below). These are not necessarily "very impulsive people." I would call them myopic in that moment, but we are all short-sighted at times. I think there are environmental factors and sometimes health issues that need attention and education. I am not pretending I know a universal policy answer or even a course of action for loved ones, but giving a green light to death seems like an inexcusable cop out.

Policy is unecessary as it not even a problem to be solved accept at the individual level.

People , with soldiers and a very small number of others such as convicts and kids in the system as exceptions ,are not the States responsibility.

Anecdotal support of Alex T's point is the author Joseph Conrad, who in a pique when a teenage shot himself in the chest, to spite his dad, miraculously lived, and went on to live a long, successful life with no more attempts at suicide. I'm sure of course there are counterexamples of people who have a death wish. The classic example (literally) of a man who really, really wanted to die would be Cato the Younger, see

The depressed teenager case is interesting. As Claudia and Frederic explained, an emotional low phase is not a terminal condition. Alex's piece is more about calling attention into suicide and recommendations such as guns and depressed adolescents are not a good mix. I fail to see the attack on civil liberties in this humane recommendation.

Another natural experiment was run on Switzerland. Change in Suicide Rates in Switzerland Before and After Firearm Restriction Resulting From the 2003 “Army XXI” Reform

"The authors found a reduction in both the overall suicide rate and the firearm suicide rate after the Army XXI reform. No significant increases were found for other suicide methods overall. An increase in railway suicides was observed. It was estimated that 22% of the reduction in firearm suicides was substituted by other suicide methods. The attenuation of the suicide rate was not compensated for during the follow-up years."

So, the hypothesis/belief that states "a suicide is going to accomplish the goal of killing himself with the help of guns or not" is right, 22 % substitution. But, the other hypothesis that says guns at young people's home are pretty helpful to suicide is even more right.

If we do have the right to determine our end of life, then I believe we also have the responsibility to limit our mess. What gives you the right to traumatize other people by ending your life with a gun? Libertarian-ism kind of falls down there, since I can't sue you after you're dead for pain and suffering caused by your suicide.

If we do have the right to determine the end of our life, then we have the responsibility to do so at a hospital in a responsible manner where our body can be properly cleaned up and disposed of.

Why does a gun make it more traumatic for others? How about a designated spot in the woods where people can go shoot themselves? Have one day a week when the death park is closed so professionals can come pick up the bodies. That way nobody risks discovering a dead body by accident.

That's cleaner and more dignified than death in a hospital.

The ultimate answer: suicide robotic booths. Payment by cash or credit card. All fully automated, no one is going to be traumatized by the disposal process. As a bonus in the Premium service, if you provide your Facebook password, the robot will send a poetic good-bye on your Wall.

Marian, well that sounds great as long as the person first direct deposits the expected discounted value of child support payments (for any existing kids) and elder care contributions (for living parents) as well as makes good any outstanding debts. Kind of like writing up a divorce agreement from your life, maybe even with similar waiting periods. The idea that our life-or-death decision is ours alone is the biggest farce. As an aside I think it is excellent that suicides are not hyped up much in the media. There is no need to glamorize what is often an act of profound weakness and certainly not a good way to draw attention to yourself.

It was a bit tongue-in-cheek, I admit. Take the suicide-booth idea with a big grain of salt, please. Though I believe that such appliances could actually function well in some very different societies, such as shogun-era Japan.

The farce turned around: if life does not belong to you, what actually does, then? Death can be viewed as a sort of ultimate personal banktrupcy, where the person can't possibly make good for all the outstanding debts and liabilities. I can't see any particular reason why the creditors should expect a different result depending on whether the debtor was hit by a bus, killed by bee-sting allergy or hanged himself high. It is risky to lend money to people by the very definition.

I share your view re media, but I do not think that the media share your motivation for silence. They probably ignore suicides because they are culturally perceived as taboo. They obviously do not show the same restraint with regard to other acts of violence, quite the other way round.

Good troll job. I demand post-mortem courts.

This is fantastic work, but I do think you touch on something at the end:

"t’s true, of course, that unlike homicides or accidents, suicide is a choice, but it’s a choice often made under the duress of crisis or depression. Moreover, suicide is not chosen by the friends, siblings, children, spouse, or parents of the person who commits suicide. Losing a loved one to suicide is a traumatic and painful experience. Suicide and its relationship to mental health, social isolation, and firearm access deserve our full attention and concern."

I think to truly combat suicide we need a new model of the mind and decision-making. A good start would be a "meme," not the modern sense of the word but Dawkins' original sense, as a packet of information that, like a gene or a virus, uses humans as hosts for propagation but isn't always in our interests. Suicide is a thought-virus - when our psychological immune systems are temporarily weakened, we're more susceptible, and it's been demonstrated that suicide is "viral" - that (especially among youth) it comes in waves and suicides can beget suicides. The kind of measures that prevent any given suicide from happening tend to prevent that suicide from ever happening, not delay it, because the virus is usually squelched by the mental immune system. This is why most failed suicides do not reattempt as well.

This does clash, though, with a popular prevailing model of the mind and decision making that purports rationality and freedom of choice, which is why you may have sounded a note of trepidation both in this post and the article. But it's extremely clear that the human brain is far more specific, complex, mysterious, ambiguous, frustrating, wondrous, limited, and capable than these simple models suggest, and when it comes to something like guns, the clash between those models can result in the lack of even modest investments that can have huge payoffs, like suicide prevention barriers on bridges.

"it’s been demonstrated that suicide is “viral”"

And yet another article seems to lament the fact that media do not report suicides often enough.

A cynic might argue that people who commit suicide from such reasons as "being viral" are so shallow or unstable that it isn't worth sacrificing civil liberties of other people in order to save them.

By cynic you mean "callous libertarian."

Kids - even and perhaps especially teens- are impressionable. Newsflash at 11.

To Squarely Rooted's point, I'll throw this out there: it's a meme in Asian culture that what you do is a reflection on your family and can bring honor or dishonor to your relatives. I think Western culture used to have this embedded in its psyche, to a much lesser extent for sure, but it's now almost nonexistent.

I'm guessing that it's inculcated in the Asian young that, among a whole host of things, suicide is considered a shameful and dishonorable act.

We'd probably be a lot better off as a society if everyone felt bound by these social norms.

Well, the question how much to restrict liberty of one person in order to help another is quite a crucial one, especially if the restriction of liberty is a sure thing, while the help effect on the other person isn't, and there may be (and usually will be) some unexpected consequences.

I think that everyone, regardless of personal political affiliation, has a line of balance there.

It's not just kids who are impressionable; if you add various cognitive biases to the mix, then pretty much everyone is.

Japanese and Korean Asians commit suicide more often than Americans. So much for inculcating social norms.

I find the statistical futzing puzzling. Middle-aged men in the mid-west and inter-mountain west commit suicide at a higher rate than the rest of the US population. That's no surprise. Those worlds, sparsely populated, can become very lonely and very poor with the slightest change in a person's usual social or economic life. As for guns and young people, the Army, Israeli or otherwise, loves to use young people to fight wars exactly because young people are reckless of their lives. Of course suicide is a problem. Make soldiering a post-retirement activity, except for SpecOps, which would rapidly disincline nations to start wars. In gun legislation we are restrictive of handgun ownership and carry by young people under age 21. It's been know for years, and widely, that two-thirds of gun deaths are suicides: Why Slate would be clueless about that is peculiar. A large number of medicine and narcotic overdoes deaths are labelled 'accidental.' Were it otherwise you wouldn't be worrying about guns and suicide so very much. Unsupervised poisonings-by-medicine kills more than twice as many 1-12 year-olds as guns, and more than 60,000 kids a year are taken to emergency rooms due to this cause, very many of them incurring some permanent brain, kidney, and liver damage despite treatment. Media love to over-focus on hot-button issues, ignoring those issues of greater impact but lesser fascination.

"A cynic might argue that people who commit suicide from such reasons as “being viral” are so shallow or unstable that it isn’t worth sacrificing civil liberties of other people in order to save them."

That reasoning is just bizarre on so many grounds. First, no one goes and kills himself just because the meme "went viral". What the meme does is pushes someone contemplating it already just over the edge.

Second, "unstable" often refers to the state of mind of the person at that instant or day. It's a mistake to extrapolate it to the person's attribute as a whole and for ever. If you decimated these "unstable" people I cringe to think how many of the best works of art, literature, science etc. we may have never gotten to experience. "Stability" is only one of many attributes that makes a man and I'd often take an unstable yet productive, creative genius over some "stable" moron.

Civil liberties aren't absolute. I'm glad we aren't all the cynics you describe.

The cynical position that I described in my previous comment is surely something that would never be popular. Yet it makes sense to mention it, because it alerts everyone about the fact that everything is a trade-off. Pretty much every policy change will help someone and hurt someone else.

Unconsciously, we all make this kinds of mental trade-offs when advocating some policies. It is useful to confront the fact outright. The very gun that was taken from a depressed person's hand may be sorely missed by a young mother whose home has just been invaded by a meth-head. Both situations are quite serious to consider, and people will usually respond by various rationalizations (as of "well, she would never be able to defend herself anyway" or "the kid will hang himself anyway", to be neutral), instead of realizing that regardless of the goodness of the intentions, in practice there always will be some ugly consequences.

By this reasoning you can't really do (or not do) anything at all, because all actions have tradeoffs. The mature way to handle this is to weigh costs and benefits. It seems that the costs of reducing teenager's access to guns are significantly outweighed by the benefits. And please don't go to the 'well you can try but some teens will still get guns' argument. By that logic you can't outlaw anything because someone will always break that law.

Not only suicides, but kids shooting kids by accident.

The new social norm for letting your kids go to another kids house: Does the family have guns in the house, and are they locked. Otherwise, sorry, you can't play with Jimmy.

Second hand smoke, er, guns.

You would be wiser to ask if the neighbour has a swimming pool, which kill far more kids than guns.

Or if they will be driving in the friends car, playing where bees are etc etc

Chip, Your logic doesn't follow.

You can observe whether your neighbor has a pool, but not whether they have guns or a gun case.

I think that at the end of the day, you will have either to trust your neighbor, or not. After all, the kids will be in his power.

Unfortunately, mutual trust has been drastically reduced in the USA (over the last two generations or so), and replaced by the "check-control-restrict" mentality, which is paranoid in its core. Maybe it is caused by the fact that TVs blow violent events out of proportion, thus distorting the world image in the minds of the viewers. 60 years ago, free-range kids were the norm; these days, you risk a collision with the CPS, as just about everyone "normal" seems to believe that human predators lurk on every corner.

Marian, in another thread (maybe at MR, it's been a little while) a respondent told me that his loaded shotgun, which he kept for home protection, was safe from visiting kids because it was hung "high on the wall."

Seriously, is it an important freedom that people make bad decisions like that? Wouldn't it be better if he were guided by a gun lock law?

That isn't the point. Go deeper.

Lots of parents not only send their kids to neighbors houses with pools, but send along bathing suits.

Many of these same parents would be horrified at the thought that a gun was in the house, and would never send along a pair of shooting range safety glasses. This even though the pool is much more likely to kill them than the gun.

Some communities mandate both pool fences and gun locks to mitigate both of these concerns, without restricting ownership.

Its funny though, the pool community doesn't have a "zero tolerance" organization, which says that any fence proposal is a slippery slope to taking away all our pools.

"Its funny though, the pool community doesn't have a “zero tolerance” organization, which says that any fence proposal is a slippery slope to taking away all our pools."

Probably because there isn't an anti-pool lobby trying to ban swimming pools. If there was, I wouldn't be shocked to see such rhetoric out of the national pool builders association. I like and support the idea of holding gun owners responsible for misuse of their guns by them or others.

Remember, there is a minority portion of people who really want all guns illegal and all guns legal (including say RPGs). Even though such an outcome is largely impossible, lots of gun owners see these restrictions through the prism of all or nothing. I think that is a mistake that prevents real progress. But lobbying efforts have convinced many gun owners that it really is all or nothing and conceding any reasonable restriction will lead to even more restrictions being demanded by the minority.

Gun law really is another area where we let the minority opinions prevent any reasonable changes.

I'll admit that I hear from rare individuals who call for a complete ban on private ownership of firearms in the US, but they are hardly a serious movement.

At the most extreme we have calls for localized handgun bans, which really are not the the same thing. You can still have a double barreled shotgun for home protection.

oops, only meant to bold "individuals"

I agree, it is a very small minority who want all guns banned. Though in my dealings with folks, the number is higher in private than public. And their odds of success are near zero. But that is all it takes for someone to latch on and concede nothing.

This is media politics. Present the extremes and we start believing they are mainstream.

Well, for whatever it's worth wrparks, I do try to argue for rationality in these forums ;-).

I believe the rational view would be to consider any actual legislative proposal, and not to link it to arbitrary slippery slopes, and especially slopes that are truly unlikely.

The sad thing here is that the NRA schools their members and value network on a bad "risk analysis" from their own point of view. They reinforce the belief that any change to gun law makes a total ban "likely." Which of course is nonsense, paranoia.

(That I find rambling "Obama will take our guns" essays stapled to telephone poles in my area reinforces that it is a paranoid subculture.)

I suppose FBI agents' kids are going to be very lonely.

How often does that really happen? That one kid shoots another.

There is plenty of potentially dangerous objects in any home, bleach, pools, knives, electric appliances and heavy furniture which may fall down.

I would be interested to see the statistics. People tend to fetishize some dangers (airplane crash, cancer, guns, terrorism) while seriously underestimating others (car crash, diabetes, swimming pools, falling from the ladder).

Human brains aren't good enough to accurately judge real probabilities of death outside of the primeval savannah environment. Risks like "1:10000" and "1:1000000" aren't distinguishable for most folks.

Yeah, how many kids drink bleach accidentally every year? I'm sure it's a ridiculously low number. However, when you to store bleach in a Coke bottle your risk is not the 1 in 1e12 for the whole US child population, it's the 1 in 10 for the subset of not so brilliant people that stores bleach in soda bottles.

@ Marian, perhaps you're not that good at that statistics thingy, this may help

Well I am a mathematician by training, doing security software by occupation, and the generally bad human ability to assess security risks is a tangential theme, often discussed among colleagues at work etc.

That is precisely why I bring up this theme, right?

I would say that your XKDC snark has missed the point. My point was that unless you go through the neighbor's house investigating every single square foot, you will not be able to rule out many dangers that may lurk there. Which is why limiting your concern to guns isn't particularly effective.

You may use the gun policy of the house as a proxy, predicting the safety of the house as a whole using this variable. I don't think that the correlation is good enough, especially with people who do not own a gun, and who would thus pass the gun test trivially.

Use your brain, not your emotional priors on this exercise.

You're somewhere between, let's say, 6 and 22 years old, visiting your friend's house. There is a cache of harmful chemicals in the cabinet under the kitchen sink - bleach, ammonia, etc.

There is a gun case in the basement.

Are you more likely to take a swig of bleach or ammonia or maybe splash some in your eyes, or to explore that gun case?

Dead serious, the question you pose at the end of your reply may be a no-brainer *to you*, yet I do not think that it in fact is. Maybe gun safes are very attractive to you, but plenty of people would get into contact with the chemistry box first, especially if they were drunk and trying to remove some wine / piss / whatever from the living room carpet. This happens remarkably often when youngsters are home without adult supervision.

To answer you, Dead, of course guns are much more attractive to any kid that the cleaners associated with housework. And lol Marian, you worry that kids might take it upon themselves to clean and suffer a resulting fatality? That reach tells us a lot.

John, this is not what I wrote. I do not like using bold font, but unfortunately I feel now that I must do so, in order to get some points through.

I honestly do not know from my head [b]which of the two risks has an actually higher yearly death/serious accident toll with regard to kids[/b] in the USA:

a) household chemicals,
b) guns.

The point is that I am at least willing to [b]say that I do not know it and think about the problem aloud without doing any conclusions[/b]. And I am very aware that [b]I can't give any meaningful answer before consulting the actual, real death statistics[/b]. Why? Because both these risks are actually quite low, percent-wise, and [b]humans are not able to deduce real weight of really small risks just by pure abstract thinking[/b].

But that is not what most people do. Most people sort small dangers in their own heads by "scare factor" rather by the real magnitude. This leads to absurd situations as such when someone drives around to avoid "aircraft hijackers", even though his driving fatality risk is much higher than being killed by an act of air terrorism. The weight of the two threats has been swapped, because terrorists are scary, while cars are not.

The same applies to other objects with "scare factor", such as guns, pedophiles, kidnappers etc. You just can't rely on your gut feeling with those small, but emotionally charged risks. The only relatively reliable way how to judge them is good statistics.

Statistically both children and teenagers are more likely to look into the unlocked medicine cabinet, rather than under the sink or into the gun case. Unsupervised self-poisoning through consumption of medications not prescribed for the person are a much more common cause of death for those 1-12 and for teenagers.

Ask the playmate's parents "do you have unlocked medications in your house?" If you are really nosy, ask "do you have unlocked Valium in your house?" Self-poisoning (throw in suicide if you wish) taking others' medications is a vastly bigger problem than guns, outside of certain easy-to-describe social groups.

Uh, I'd say Marian has a much better grasp of statistics than you do.

> (car crash, diabetes, swimming pools, falling from the ladder)

What a strange list that includes diabetes here - ? If you are going to include dangers to kids that aren't accidental, over which one has minimal control and chance of avoiding, I believe cancer rates FAR higher.

Each member of the list was intended to represent a sort of event. One reason why I chose diabetes as a severe, yet ignored risk, is the fact that diabetes rates have surged recently in the USA. This is a wellknown risk of sedentary lifestyle and associated obesity, yet the parents still feel better if their kids sit home (thus creating a lifelong habit of sedentariness) than if they, god forbid. go outside.

Ok, forgive me: In the context, I thought you were talking about threats to kids that would kill or harm them _as kids_. As I'm guess you do know (many don't) when a child contracts diabetes as a child, it's almost always type 1 with no real known association with a bad lifestyle, obestity, or sugar consumption. (Children getting type II diabetes linked to obesity _do_ exist, and this is on the rise, but not very long ago this was generally assumed to be near zero prevalence).
But now we are talking about risks to kids which create habits that might bite them as adults, which is rather a large expansion of scope!, does "TV" belong there?

Where is this a social norm?

Let's make it a social norm.

So, earlier you were talking out of your hat. Got it.


Like your previous comment, that doesn't follow. If you have no social norm on this subject, there will never be one. Just as second hand smoke became a social norm in the restaurant because people made it a social norm, it became a social norm.

Social norms are created all the time.

Otherwise, you would be living in the middle ages, examining pig entrails for guidance.

Well, yeah, that is true, but I would say that a very specific sign of modern times is that a specific subset of people feels that they are entitled to change the social norms on behalf, and often directly against the wishes of, the great unwashed public down there. A lot of measures pushed from the political or chattering class are in direct contrast with the majority opinion. The spontaneous development would be *much* slower.

Some of those pushed-through measures will be ultimately successful, but some of them will be catastrophic.

Tyler, you've gotten great publicity from your book AIO, but I don't recall a paper of yours getting much media attention. It will be interesting to see if this paper gets you disproportionate attention because it's findings appeal to liberal outlets such as slate. Has it already?

Probably not, since the paper and the post are by Alex.

It's Alex, not Tyler.

And, as a liberal, I got to say that I'll take gun reduction pretty much any which way but would prefer it to be because of its effect on violence than its effect on suicide rates of 'success'.

Besides, Alex and his co-author offer a way out for gun lovers - internalise the costs of the lives wasted by gun ownership. You'd have to internalise the cost of the lives saved by gun ownership and that's going to be seriously tricky (a lot more than the deaths, which cannot be disputed) but, provided your econometricians are relatively honest and scrupulous, you might get to a 'correct' price for guns/bullets.

Do you want to internalize the costs of single motherhood? 60-70 percent of these suicides are happening in single parent homes.

I would say that one of the core principles of modern welfare state is reduction of internalization of bad decisions. Why the exception for guns?

I don't particularly want to. I am a big bad gvt guy, am I not? But, if that's what it takes to sell the idea to conservatives (if not libertarians), I'm willing to put some water into my wine...

"And, as a liberal, I got to say that I’ll take gun reduction pretty much any which way but would prefer it to be because of its effect on violence than its effect on suicide rates of ‘success’. "

This is funny to me. This seems to be a case where perceived harm/risk is more important than real. Is it related to the idea that we can address the national spending problem (that both sides admit exists) yet do so without addressing SS, military, medicaid, and medicare spending.

This perception problem isn't a conservative/liberal problem. It seems both sides have their ideological blind spots.

I find the reduction in suicide rates quite a bit more compelling than any reduction in violent crime. That could be a real benefit to limiting access to guns.

It's not funny.

I just would want to win the argument on gun = more violence outright rather than to have to use the case of suicides as a feint.

After all, you could say that imposing guns to be stored in a locker pretty much guarantee that teenagers won't be able to use them in a bout of depression. If you could find a way to deal with young adults who can legally own a gun, you'd basically significantly reduce the risk of young depressed people shooting themselves. But that wouldn't change the fact that guns would still be too common and leading to too much deaths.

I am not necessarily against the idea of people having guns. Indeed, I think the Switzerland and Israel model are interesting and I jokingly thought it'd be funny to impose it on the USA:

But I've never met a pro-gun argument in the USA that made sense/had a decent cost-benefit ratio...

Frederic, that is because the benefits are much harder to compute than the costs.

I still do think that there is some fetishization of guns. Violence is, first of all, in human head, only then it finds some outlet.

I believe that there are many more unregistered firearms around even France than you think. After war, a lot of people stashed away the German guns secretly, together with ammo. If kept well, those will still be in firing condition. Yet it is quite rare to hear of such shooting.

There are even more recent sources. After communism has dezintegrated, the Soviet occupation troops that were dislocated in GDR and Czechoslovakia had to return somehow. The discipline fell apart, together with the bookkeeping, and entire munition warehouses were sold to civilians. By sober estimates, at least a million guns have "disappeared" during that period, plus some handgrenades as well... Yet there was no bloodshed wave in Germany or Czechia. Many of the guns ended up in the underworld, but even the mafiosi think twice before unleashing something like that.

The practice of unsafe sex, never a needed practice, causes vastly greater societal harm, externalized costs, than guns. Sure, unprotected sex doesn't splatter blood on the wall, but it is equally or more so an impulsive act, when compared to suicide. Who contemplates having unsafe sex for months before having it? No one. Who internalizes the costs of unprotected sex? Few people.

Hand wave hand wave hand wave other issues pay no attention to the fact that guns are designed and manufactured to kill people unlike every other rabbit hole I try to take you down.

"guns are designed and manufactured to kill people""

That's true. It is also true that with the exception of some very strict pacifists (such as adherents of Jainism), most people will agree that there are people out there who do need killing.

The only difference is that some would be happy if only law enforcement officers did this kind of dirty job, while others would prefer civilians to have the means as well.

I don't think that many gun ownership advocates would try to pretend that guns aren't made for killing.

Yes, I would prefer to leave the killing to law enforcement now that you ask.

I similarly don't propose that I have the option to pull over speeding motorists, or arrest shoplifters.

If you absolutely *must* have a weapon to defend your home, a simple revolver should do fine - the kind where you need to manually reload after every shot. If you have to fire more than once you've made some bad decisions in life because the guy coming after you isn't trying to rob your house.

In which case, call the cops.

I would definitely prefer the LEOs to do such work as well, but that is not the same as restricting it exclusively to them. The concept of self-defense is very old and hasn't been abolished in most countries.

As far as home invasion is concerned, I always thought that the best weapon for that is a double-barreled shotgun. Zero risk of the projectiles going through walls, less need for precision etc.

That said, the recommendations on firearm type and magazine size should be probably done by defense experts, not us. We're (probably) both amateurs, even though interested ones. I surely never was at a scene of home defense; there are people who have seen hundreds of them.

This isn't a firearms sight, but I'd point out that if a handgun had to be reloaded after every shot, it wouldn't be a revolver. As for double-barreled shotguns for home defense, loaded with either buckshot or slugs, wall penetration is guaranteed if you miss the attacker. If there are two attackers and you are the least bit unlucky or unskilled, you'll wish you hadn't chosed a pheasant gun for home defense.

I don't see "hand waving" involved my comment about unsafe sex. Obviously I was suggesting yet another larger problem than gun safety. While it is true that guns are designed to kill, animals or human predators, therein lies their utility. That wasn't lost on Jefferson. If criminals and would be tyrants did not so predictably appear, defensive guns might indeed be needless. If, in other words, humans were not human.

Good point on the revolver - that was a dumb error on my part. You are throwing everything but the kitchen sink into a discussion on firearms. Maybe you conflate these things in real life, but the many other social ills you're attempting to inject into the conversation are unrelated to what we're talking about.

Guns in Jefferson's time were a right because the idea was that the citizenry would serve as a de facto militia.

We now have the most advanced armed forces and deterrents the world has ever seen, so we no longer have that requirement.

If you want/need something for hunting purposes, get a single shot rifle or a crossbow.

If you want/need something for home protection purposes, get a single shot handgun or a bunch of tasers and some handcuffs. Or an alarm system. Or rethink your life decisions because if you have that many enemies you're probably a horrible person. Move and start over and try not to be an asshole next time.

There is absolutely, unequivocally no reason why anyone not serving in an official capacity in one of our armed forces branches should be allowed to have an automatic weapon of any kind. I don't care what you people think your "God-given rights" are. The rest of the world - and the majority of our domestic population - rightly recognizes that this aspect of our society is due to neanderthal 'thinking.'

What makes you think the costs are not internalized? The most common form of death by gun is suicide. I would hazard to guess that if I owned a gun in the house, the most likely suicide victims are people in my family. I would suggest that these costs ARE internalized.

But, as you said, you are a liberal, and you'll just grab any reason you can to reduce gun ownership. Did you know the moon is passing through Sagittarus this week? Better ban guns! You know how those Leos are ;)

Clearly, some people don't give too much of a toss about their family - especially drunken/drug-using parents of a depressed kid... See Alex's article for details.

And, yes, I have heard about those Leos. I don't trust them either. I think we should start sending them to Gitmo. Better safe than sorry... :)

How many law-abiding people are shielded from crime, violent and otherwise, by being armed themselves or living in a community with a reputation for gun ownership?

And compare that with the number of suicides.

All laws have trade offs. Australia may have severely curtailed guns but it didn't affect the murder rate much or deter violent crime, which is among the highest in the developed world.

Living in the UK I feel shielded from violent crime, the crime I'm concerned about, by the very low prevalence of firearms.

But yet violent crime is more common in the UK...

You misread. He FEELS shielded. Actual results are not so important.



I think it is quite misleading to think of crime in dimensions of entire countries. This is quite literally abuse of the statistics, on the same level as counting average income of a group of people which includes both billionaires and beggars.

Violent crime is highly localized, all around the world. In the USA, doubly so. Several really bad cities probably provide more than half of the entire murder statistics, while having a tiny fragment of the total population.

Living somewhere in the middle of Oklahoma, you're probably safer than in Paris, regardless of the fact that the neighbors practically live on heaps of guns (ok, a bit of an overstatement, but the pattern of armed-yet-rather-peaceful rural country holds remarkably throughout America).

how many communities are protected from skittles by guns?

According to the UNODC, the murder rate in Australia is less than one quarter of the US rate and has fallen by more than one third since 1997

It would be great to know, but as the article points out, since the 1990s, gun lobbyists have effectively prevented the collection of good data on gun use/gun violence in the US. So instead of knowing the utility of guns in crime prevention, we're left arguing over whose prior is correct.

"Knowing the utility of guns in crime prevention" is an utterly impossible task. Many gun uses are never reported to the police to begin with, and it is even harder to estimate how many crimes never took place because the would-be offender was scared enough of running into an armed victim.

At the end of the day, every interest group will concoct their bogus statistic to help their point through. Churchill had something to say in this regard.

Yeah, god forbid we even try to gather data on it so intelligent people can make rational decisions.

Collect all the data you want, but you will miss some significant meaningful subsets of them, and if you proces such a limited subset, you can't come to an informed decision, regardless of which decision-making algorithm you use. The IT crowd says: "Garbage In, Garbage Out".

Then just put a big sign outside your house that says "This house is armed to the gills with weapons."

About as effective a deterrent unless you regularly stand on your front porch brandishing AR15s Rambo-style.

LOL at "reputation." Nice try.

You first. But only if your sign says: "This house is a gun free zone."

Oh wow, another Internet Tough Guy. Does this comment even make sense?

I'm saying that I can put an "I'm armed and dangerous" sign outside my house and it's going to be a bigger deterrent than you having a private stash of guns that nobody knows about.

People have noted the difficulty of gathering data.

The NRA and pro-gun people are keen on mentioning stats regarding "guns averted X crimes". And they may be utterly correct.

However, this STILL fails b/c it doesn't take into account how many crimes were committed thanks to guns...

The best that you can do is to take a similar population (age distribution, ethnicity, income) in another country where the gun proliferation significantly differs, and compare those two.

Still quite tricky, though. Subtle cultural differences can influence the result a lot.

It would be fine with me if everyone candidly admitted that they do not have a clue about the real balance of things, but voters do not like indecisiveness (or whatever sounds like one), so I don't think that we'll ever see that.

The difference is that gun bans will absolutely prevent the former and do nothing to prevent the latter. Criminals will still get their guns.

I'm not very surprised that many suicides are prevented by even temporary lack of access to means. People have bleak moments. Many suicides seem to not be serious attempts at self-murder but rather crying for attention. If guns turn calls for attention into successful suicides then this is what you would see. Plus, a lot of non-firearm methods of killing yourself are really painful (e.g. most poisons) or require help.

"a lot of non-firearm methods of killing yourself are really painful"

I wonder if that's added into the utility calc.
Without firearms, many people will suffer through their second choice of suicide, rather than the effecient first choice of firearm.

Did you look at what happened to overall violent crime rates down under at the same time?It is my understanding that they more than doubled. While at the same time the US - in the throes of concealed carry saw theirs plu

That factoid about suicide deaths vs. armed conflict deaths was really surprising.

Well, there hasn't been any war between developed military powers for decades. Sort-of global uneasy nuclear peace.

I would guess than in places which do have an active war underway, the factoid will not hold. If 200 people of a million commit suicide yearly, this is already quite a high suicide rate. War operations in a city of one million people will probably produce 200 casualties in matter of hours.

Libertarians and liberal theorists need to get much better at talking about the time structure of decision making. It plays into issues like drug legalization (not for weed, for real drugs), really all addiction, abortion, legal suicide (and euthanasia on the other end) in an important way, and I'm not aware of people making a big enough deal out of it.

Yeah, this is my reaction to the suicide prevention question. Killing yourself = ungood, turning yourself into a strung out junkie on drugs = none of my business

I mean, that's what these "libertarian" positions seem to be but I find them contradictory

Progressive opinion:

1. We need to massively reduce the number of gun because something like 125 children under 12 commit suicide with a gun in an impulsive act.

2. We need to maintain or increase the ease with which a woman can abort a fetus.

Right-wing wackjob opinion:

1. We pretend that "life is precious" but we can't incarcerate or - best option! - impose capital punishment on people we don't like fast enough.

2. Automatic and semi-automatic weapons are our sacred right in our effort to preserve life because rapid-fire guns do such a good job of that.

3. An unborn life is a gift from God, but the killing of innocent people from other places is an unfortunate but necessary side effect because terrorism.

4. Conception is a holy event unless you're black and poor, in which case we demand you bring every fetus to term and then call you a lazy layabout when you can't adequately care for it.

This sort of frothing at the mouth MSNBC shit-in-Sarah-Palins-mouth lunacy genuinely scares me.

I have some sympathy with libertarian ideas, because I think that people often learn by doing and experiencing the positive or negative consequences of their choices. But suicide, obviously, forecloses all future possibilities, so I don't think society should be neutral towards it.

Well, that is a culturally loaded question. Even some Christian societies (Hungary) treat suicide as a basically honorable act.

Cultures which have the concept of reincarnation are not that much concerned about the end of a single particular earthly life...


Is this empirically true? Does the Indian sub-continent or Buddhist nations have a spike in suicides?

I don't think so, as the human self-preservation instinct is quite strong, but I would expect that suicide of a loved one wouldn't be considered as publicly shameful as, say, in the USA, and that the grieving could be less severe, because you wouldn't worry about the fate of the soul as much. According to the Christian tradition, suicides end in hell - at least that is how it is widely perceived to be (I am sure that there is some contradicting theological viewpoint, there always is).

'Even some Christian societies (Hungary)'

I have a hard time believing this, considering that Hungary is one of those 'ethnic Catholic' countries Steve Sailer is now apparently so smitten with.

On the other hand, after growing up Catholic in the U.S. and moving to southern Germany, I realize that the Catholic Church's universalism is just a cover for how the church accomodates itself to local conditions.

A lot of major Hungarian cultural and political personalities since the Middle Ages have committed suicide, sometimes very publicly so, and quite a lot of cultural works are spun around the theme of voluntary death, songs, books, films.

Yes, even though a Catholic country, Hungary is strange in this regard. The total incomprehensibility of the language created some specific insular mentality there.

Arthur Koestler

We should probably take steps to keep the franchise away from these people too. A vote cast in a moment of darkness can have many negative external effects, when combined with the dark votes of others.

You can commit suicide if you have a moment of darkness during 1% of your life. In the long-run, individual longitudinal averages equal cross-sectional population averages -- so the problem need not be large. Also, you probably abstain from voting if you have a deep depression.

The argument that many women are overjoyed that they did not have an abortion because such a procedure was difficult to obtain and thus abortions should be strongly prohibited for the sake of abortion victims has been a powerful one that has convinced hundreds of thousands of "Slate" readers over the years.

The abortion issue is raised each and every day by right-wingers and bible thumpers who are doing everything they can to undermine and overturn the law. Including - in the past - killing doctors and bombing clinics.

But it's always "now is not the time to have a national discussion on firearms" from the NRA and its "millions of supporters" (their claim). And "big brother needs to get his nose out of my gun case" type bullshit.

You are not one of the convinced "Slate" readers. What would convince you?

What would convince me that there are women who either regret an abortion or are glad they didn't go through with one?

I'm 100% certain there are women who fit those descriptions. Is that what you're asking?

Does abortion have anything to do with firearms or is it a completely separate and unrelated issue? If you want to stake out every issue that a morally consistent society would engender, have at it. Please include in your tract how we as a society should treat the following:

- the poor
- armed conflicts
- capital punishment (and incarceration in general)
- drugs
- prostitution
- abortion
- gun ownership

I'm willing to bet on some of these you'll argue that the state has no business getting in your business but in others your arguments will be completely contradictory. In some you'll argue that we need to protect life at all costs but in other examples you'll argue the polar opposite.

Good luck.

Well that is what is called individual life philosophy and values, therefore your bet would be quite safe. Safe bets do not have much of an explanatory value, though.

My intended question was What would convince you that abortion should be restricted; in the context of this discussion, engendered by an apparently interesting paper of A.T.'s, the question relates to what level of protection of the victims of abortion from impulsive behavior would convince you?
To answer your question to me would take pages or more, as M.K pointed out, but my guess is that my answer would contain more mentions of the "reasonable protection of innocent life" than would be found in a similar answer from an average writer for Slate, or from an average libertarian, with the sadly controversial phrase being "innocent life".

Abortion already is restricted and there are many a congressman and senator fighting for it to be even moreso. Again, we're not allowed to have a national discussion on firearms because the NRA said so.

There is also the question when life begins. Some would argue that contraception is a sin. Is the 'day after' pill an abortive measure?

The pro-life crowd is often pro-capital punishment and pro-guns. I can't say that I'm entirely consistent in my social views either.

It is quite readily observable that a national discussion on firearms has been running for at least 50 years in the USA. The fact that stresses a lot of people is that the discussion does not seem to near itself to any conclusion. From the viewpoint of the restrictionists, it does not even move in the desired direction.

That's what bugs people - absence of decisive victory - not absence of "discussion". There are probably hundreds of thousands of threads, articles and blog entries on the theme around, with a few hundreds being added daily.

I wonder how much of the effect is due to the fact that a gunshot wound is unambiguously suicide? By contrast, a single car accident, an overdose, or even a fall can be much more ambiguous. If the victim didn't leave some specific indication of his/her suicidal intent, these would be more likely to classified as accidental deaths rather than non-gun suicides.

It seems as if this would be difficult to extract from data statistically, since death rates are quite low in the non-elderly population.

A gun shot wound is not ambiguously suicide, even where there is only one person present. There are cleaning accidents, play-acting accidents, and "how does this thing work" accidents, not to mention fugue states and hallucinations.

should begin = a gun shot wound is not always even ambiguously suicide, even where there is only one person present.

If you shoot yourself while cleaning your gun, you were doing it wrong. Very wrong.

"accident while cleaning a gun" is the way suicides were reported in the news for years.

Young people do a lot of silly and dangerous things, but it is true that when they play with guns the reporters for the Daily Mail or the New York Post generally don't try to grub page views with mocking headlines

Although celebrities like Plaxico Burress are apparently fair game for malicious humor. See also Auberon Waugh ....

Yeah, people are always accidentally putting the barrel in their mouths while cleaning their guns. I think a gunshot suicide is pretty unambiguous.

A good number of people who gamble or take drugs become addicts. Should drugs be legal or illegal? If we reach different conclusions about drugs than we do about guns, should our inconsistency matter?


'A good number of people who gamble'

In Germany, it is illegal for a casino to allow someone to gamble who is incapable of gambling responsibly - this includes those who have stated to the casino they have a problem, and should be barred from entry. And if the casino does allow them in, the casino is responsible for the consequences, not the gambler.

I'm unaware of any such legal responsibility on the part of a firearm seller in the U.S.

Or pushers.

Selling controlled substances is illegal federally. Running a casino in a state approved manner in a place like Las Vegas, Atlantic City, or various Indian reservations isn't.

Okay, prior_approval, so is it safe to assume that guns, drugs, and gambling should all be similarly regulated?

Principled Libertarians may take the view that drugs, gambling and guns should be treated equally as matters of individual choice, in which case it would be consistent to argue that they should all be 100% legal and unregulated.

Those who are more pragmatic may favor legalization of drugs and gambling not out of principle but due to belief in the thesis that creating a black market for these goods and services causes more human suffering overall. Such a person could also believe that legal guns in our society causes more human suffering than it prevents and therefore object to the legality of guns on the exact same grounds as their positions on guns and gambling.

Yes, dirk, that's the question - To what extent is consistence important here? We'll all draw our own lines, but anyone who discovers an inconsistency in their beliefs owes themselves an explanation. Furthermore, I'd argue that the explanation ought to be more complete than "because pragmatism!" I'm not here to determine for all people what is the morally correct conclusion to draw, but most people are uncomfortable with the cognitive dissonance created by a self-contradiction.

My opinion on every policy issue is "because pragmatism!". I'd even say it is my ideology. Doesn't bother me if that's not satisfying to those with more complicated political philosophies.

You still need a means by which to assess which is the most pragmatic option, that's the point. And that implies a standard by which to judge, and presto! you're back to complicated political philosophies.

Pretty sure if you walk into a gun shop and say "I want this gun so I can go shoot myself" they aren't going to sell it to you.

They will absolutely not sell in such a scenario. I've seen store owners not sale just because they sensed a person was not responsible or familiarized with weapons.

Pardon my skepticism, but I think you are willingly unaware. Just look at a form 4473. Not only are dealers not allowed to sell arms if certain conditions apply, they don't have to have a buyer casually reveal these things, they have to actively ask them.

Pardon my skepticism, but mortgage applications had to have documented income 8 years ago. Only they didn't.

This skepticism is well warranted. I guess that the main question is what the vendor risks by cutting the corners. Big banks will probably rely on someone else bailing them out. Small store owner will be eaten alive by both the authorities and the tort lawyers. Therefore he SHOULD be more careful (there is no guarantee that he will).

No, he won't really. He'll just say he asked the questions.

Are you being willfully ignorant or just combative for sport?

Federally licensed firearms sellers, transferers, suffer a large penalty if they ignore obviously fake paperwork. They lose their livelihood.

All the comparison with mortgage applications did was remind us that many mortgage brokers were much more corrupt than the average full-time firearm dealer. But wait, it gets worse: We have an extensive record of major bankers encouraging the practice, and federally chartered agencies buying securities founded on bad paperwork. I'll never forget the testimony of the Clayton Holdings executives. Never.

"combative for sport"

Well, of all the participants of this discussion, I would say that this description would fit you most, sorry.

There is nothing "combative" in the very act of stating non-concurring arguments. There is a lot of combativeness in calling other names, though.

Sixty-eight posts in, I have to wonder about this assertion that suicide is a topic the media steer clear of: the aversion seems to be not simply in the roving eyes of the media.

I'm thinking of a Buster Keaton two-reeler from 1921, "Hard Luck": Buster's character tries lying down on trolley tracks, walking out in front of approaching motorcyclists as if their dual headlights belonged to one vehicle, tries poison, tries hanging himself--all to comic result. The following year, in "Daydreams", Buster's character comically fails to shoot himself and is kicked from a second-floor window for his failure. By today's lights, Keaton's exploitation of suicide for comic effect puts his work in quite a remote epoch.

Suicide is not now appreciated for its comic potential (celebrity suicides and the 20th century advent of the 27 Club notwithstanding). This change in perception took barely a hundred years. Does appreciation for dark humor require reserves of irony or emotion that we have lost touch with because of what's transpired in US and world history since the early 1920s (Keaton's risible regard for suicide in the aftermath of WWI I suppose looks positively insensitive to sensitized 21st century eyes)? or, because of nominal and substantive advances in medical science, have we become such devotees of "biolatry" (the idolatry of biological continuity) that the very thought of suicide repels us in our sophistication?

Nice paper.

lol, no. Especially the cost-benefit analysis is laughable. They simply take the value-of-life number for non-suicidal lives and apply it to people who choose to die, which is an entirely different empirical category. The way the original numbers were derives is unsuitable for suicidal people, because they would give very different responses and revealed preferences for reducing their risk of dying.

I could not manage to access the paper. Is a registration required? A different question: With so much publicity on this blog and access to the best academics for personalized review, why bother feeding Elsevier at the expense of readers and progress?

Why no speculation on a genetic component? If there is such a thing, should potential suicides be prevented from fulfilling a destiny contained in their cells that could be passed on to others? Realistically, wouldn't a tendency for suicide inevitably exist in a certain percentage of the species? Shouldn't we develop a test for suicidal tendencies that could be given to kindergarten students and those with positive results be permanently kept away from firearms and bridges? Speaking of bridges, how do we know that bridge jumpers just didn't slip and fall? John Berryman had a reputation for unsteadiness.

If we are hypothesizing tendencies, why not one latent in all of us? What if we feel useless to our tribe and families, and consider a rash action as a result?

(But yes, I've noticed that new bridge construction seems to include fences of a height to make jumping inconvenient, and not an easy rash action.)

The same happens here, but it might be noticed that such fences play more roles than just preventing the suicide.

In case of bridges that span inhabited valleys, those fences protect the inhabitants from the bodies of falling suicides, as well as from other potentially heavy objects being thrown over them. This was quite a problem with one notorious suicide bridge (Nuselský) in my city of residence, Prague, the Czech Republic. The locals were quite reasonably afraid of the jumpers.

In case of bridges over water, it still saves the police and the fire service a lot of work with trying to find the dead body in the deep river.

This is an interesting thread, because it doesn't defend the right to suicide.

But, it is also interesting in that it does defend the right of someone to be negligent in not having gunlocks (with kids dying) or objecting to parents asking other parents if they have guns or gunlocks before sending the kid on an overnight.

It's interesting because in one case--self inflicted suicide--the person who is damaged directly is the victim, but in the other case, it is someone else.

"it is also interesting in that it does defend the right of someone to be negligent in not having gunlocks (with kids dying) "
Sorry, what? Please point to the line in the article defending negligent failure to keep a gun lock, resulting in the death of a child.

Urso, Scroll to my first comment, and some of the responses to it. I wish my statement weren't true, as I consider it as negligence per se not to have a gunlock, meaning that there is or should be a law.

Similarly, I'd ask other parents for a driving record and current safety report on their vehicle before allowing my child to ride home with them.

I would ask them if they have any medications in unlocked cabinets. That's a much more common problem, causes twice the 1-12-year-old child fatalities, and causes vastly more bodily damage short of death. Every single day four school-busload-equivalents of children ages 1-12 get taken to ER's due to unsupervised medication ingestion.

Alan, How many times do you see kids pointing medicine bottles at other kids and saying "bang"


Actually, you have to have a driving license to show you can operate a vehicle safely, have to have seatbelts in the car--but, as for guns, you don't have to have safety training or gunlocks.

Part of the horror of the Public Health view of the world to me is there's this Health Trumps All idea of society that suggests individuals should not be empowered to make decisions with large consequences to themselves.

Has anyone attempted to replicate the IDF study? The original study is based on 5 years of evidence, 28 suicides per year before the change and 16.5 after the change. These numbers are ridiculously small and this result is probably noise. What was the rate before 2003? What was the rate after 2008?

For that matter, does anyone have the numbers for individual years 2003-2008?

Oh, yeah, the IDF paper is an example of a standard statistical error: The difference between statistically significant and statistically insignificant is not itself statistical significant.

That is one of the first things I thought of. The number of suicides in a body of IDF size must be pretty low. A difference of five or ten may be a statistical fluke.

It would be intellectually honest to follow the trend at least until today. The cutoff of 2008 might have been chosen randomly, or it may not. Perhaps 2009 had a spike of suicides which would bury the article.

The paper was submitted in 2009, so it used all the data available at the time. There is some choice in the number of years before the change.

In that case, it would be still fine to check the development in the last 4 years.

Of course, actions like "Cast Lead" might have some compounding results, maybe someone put a bullet through their head b/c of PTSD etc.

Like with mass shootings, increased risk of suicide from access to guns seems like it will be largely confined to a small segment of the population - say, those suffering from major depression. Should our attempts to protect people from themselves thus be similarly confined, or do we need to limit everyone's freedom because of the dangers posed (to themselves) by a small minority?

I'm still taking my shoes off at the airport.

It's also a major cause of death of all those farmer's put out of business by Big Ag.

It's even a cause of death when a tenant farmer gets outbid when the land sells, or can't finance, and loses his lease. It's a very tough world out there in farm country. Neighbors can be miles away, towns fifty miles away. Life out on the plains doesn't meet the charmingly rustic image of a gentleman's farm in the exurbs or horse country.

I think this is very culture related. In the Anglosphere, the suicide rates are almost identical even with the different gun laws of the individual states. When doing a little more web browsing on the topic, the former Soviet Union territories have double and triple the rates of most of the western democracies. The Asian country numbers surprised me as well. Banning guns will only change the method, not the behavior.

I wonder how many suicides would be prevented across the Anglosphere if the culture stopped treating physical touching as an act of criminal harassment.

It is quite strange that one of the most natural interactions among primates since Miocene is basically off-limits in a large swath of the world.

Intuitively, people feel more alienated from one another if they never touch. But once the school system teaches you that touching people is icky, you are likely to internalize it and never revert to the archaic norm.

Alex, is the $2635 number an annual number?

I assumed from your article that the increase in suicides is 345 per year.

If true, this would suggest the lifetime cost of an additional gun, (or alternatively an additional household with gun) is remarkable.

There is in, the big push for firearm restrictions, a reflection of the sense of specialness, and alienation from the common man and women, on the part of elites. For this reason the push strikes me as anti-democratic. I find the constant concern for the public health on the part of power elites a charade, for they have by-and-large treated the public health as a minimization problem, as in "what is the least we can spend to improve public health and keeper workers working." Except for guns. On that issue they are willing to spend whatever it takes because, lo, guns have a political meaning. Anyone who doesn't think so should try refuting Pericles, Jefferson, Adams, Mao, Lenin, and Hitler. Every age and every political system has ended with elites championing the public safety and ease, over-promising security, restricting arms, and then extracting more power and wealth from the plain citizen once power is adequately centralized. Firearms seem evil to many until they see the result of firearms only in the hands of the central authorities and criminals.

Fortunately the founding generation also viewed the right to keep and bear arms as a democratic feature in the eastern states already beset by class divisions, regional oligarchs, and royalists. It hasn't changed. The new royalists are the worshipers of wealth and of those who possess it. What the extremely wealthy or powerful become, surrounded by their security systems and bodyguards, is paranoid about the average citizen. It is a virtue of a well-functioning democracy, or republic, that for the rare leader attacked, there is always a second to peacefully take her place and continue the polity, rendering assassination ineffective, but leaving the liberty of self-defense undiminished in value.

Stunning. By substituting less efficient means of ending life for the most efficient means of ending life, you see a net reduction in suicides?!!??!

Someone's on the hunt for the Nobel...

As many people above have said. People ending their own lives is nobody's business but their own, and my guns, legally held and responsibly wielded, are nobody's business but my own.


Does anyone have a link to an analysis of American suicides that breaks out the frequency of apparent reasons? (with some guessing of course)
I'd like to know what percentage of suicides are old people who cannot do the things they used to enjoy and don't want to change, what percentage would qualify for euthanasia (where it is legal) what percentage are youngsters temporarily embarrassed, how many have clinical diagnosed depression, etc

I doubt there is published accurate info. If I were interested, I would ask several middle aged or elderly funeral directors or morticians, priests, or rabbis.

You'd publish better if you were more terse.

This study falsely only looks at firearm suicides. People in Australia, particularly men, merely substituted one means (mostly hanging) for another.

Yep, and outside of a gunshot wound, suicides can be horrible events that leave people disfigured for life.

Also funny that teenage suicide wasn't much of a problem until progressive social values took hold in the early-60s, at which point the rate began to rise. So liberals make kids suicidal, then say we have to ban guns because the kids are suicidal. These are awful people.

That assertion that teen suicide only took hold in the 60s is false.

The suicide rate in the US has been remarkably stable at 11-12 per 100k since the 1950s. Before that, the suicide rate was as much as 50% higher during the Great Depression (hence the name) and the recession before that.

Most suicides are by older people (over 45), the risk is 2-3 times greater for a middle aged or elderly person than a teenager. Personal loss (job, loved one, failed marriage) have always been key drivers and the risk has always been skewed towards older people. Not surprisingly, suicides tend to be somewhat pro-cyclical, rising during bad economic times.

In other countries you see the same phenomenon: Suicide rates are driven by demographics, and older people are significantly higher risk.

The spontaneous teen suicide is the rare event. Studies of suicide victims show a markedly higher risk after one attempt, and that they engage in "cutting" or other behaviors to work their way up to it. And many have drugs or alcohol (studies vary from 40%-70%, tox screens are not typically taken unfortunately).

The data says if someone shoots themself in the head, they want to die and want to make statement, and probably over 40, and gun laws wont stop someone like that.

So lets see...

Liberals are much more depressed and unhappy than conservatives.

Democrats commit a much larger share of murders than do Republicans.

So because of these two facts, conservatives and Republicans have to give up their gun rights?

How about we just get rid of liberal and Democrat cultural values?

I had no idea Tabarrok was such an ardent enemy of even the most basic human rights. Huh. Also nice:

"Moreover, suicide is not chosen by the friends, siblings, children, spouse, or parents of the person who commits suicide. Losing a loved one to suicide is a traumatic and painful experience."

In other words, your rights end where my feelings begin. If I have emotions for you, your body and life no longer belong to you, instead I gain a claim on them. Your consent is not relevant at all.

I'll remember that next time I like a girl. According to Tabarrok's wicked logic, that makes rape totally okay.

Who knew that owning automatic weapons was a basic human right.

You strict constitutionalist wackjobs should go form your own country somewhere and leave us rational, embrained people to fend for ourselves. Take Scalia with you - he can be your President.

You can all take turns trying to squeeze literal interpretations of the Constitution and the Bible to fit today's world.

"Who knew that owning automatic weapons was a basic human right."

Don't be an idiot - suicide is.

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