(Reuters) - The risk of suicide by firearm jumps 100-fold during the first month after purchasing a handgun, even if the buyer is subject to a 10-day waiting period, according to results from the largest long-term analysis of gun ownership in the United States.
The study, reported by the New England Journal of Medicine, also found the danger of suicide by firearm is more than four times higher for women than for men.
“The risk for owners is stratospheric,” lead author Dr. David Studdert of Stanford University told Reuters in a phone interview.
The risk declines over time, plateaus, but stays high for years, researchers found.
“Many people buy a handgun because they think it makes them and their families safe,” he said. “There’s substantial and rising evidence that that’s probably not true.”
The findings come at a time when a near record 2 million guns were purchased in the United States in March, as the coronavirus pandemic began shutting down most parts of the country.
The higher risk of suicide among gun owners has been known for decades, but the new research looking at first-time California purchasers was able to gauge when the risk is highest.
Men who bought their first handgun through 2016 were over three times as likely to die from suicide by any cause and nearly eight times more likely to kill themselves with a firearm than men who were not gun owners.
Among female purchasers, the suicide rate was seven times higher, and the odds that their suicide would involve a firearm were 35 times higher than for women who had not bought a handgun.
While the short-term risk was highest, 52% of all gun-related suicides nonetheless “occurred more than a one year after acquisition,” the researchers said.
That finding “adds weight to the narrative that having a gun in the home can increase the risk of suicide simply because when the urge to take one’s life becomes so strong, there is a means present in the home to act on that desire,” said gun researcher Dr. Anupam Jena of Harvard University Medical School, who was not involved in the study.
“I view that as different than the deaths that occur very shortly after firearm purchase,” he said, “because in those cases the firearm may have been purchased with the intent to commit suicide.”
Reporting by Gene Emery in Cranston, Rhode Island; Editing by Bill Berkrot