Gun safe storage laws may help reduce some teen suicide rates


Laws intended to keep guns from youth often referred to as child access prevention or CAP laws are associated with a reduction in suicide rates among youth aged 14 to 17 years, according to a study in the August 4 issue of JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association, a theme issue on Violence and Human Rights.

"Suicide is the third leading cause of death among youth aged 10 to 19 years in the United States, accounting for 1,883 deaths in 2001," the authors provide as background information in the article. "Firearms were used in approximately half of suicides within this age group in 2001; however, as recently as 1994, 7 of every 10 suicides among teenagers involved firearms." The authors note that as of 2001, "18 states had some form of CAP law that makes it a crime to store firearms in a manner that allows them to be easily accessed by children and adolescents. Most require gun owners to lock up their guns."

Daniel W. Webster, Sc.D., M.P.H., from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, and colleagues, analyzed data on suicide rates among U.S. youth aged 14 through 20 years from 1976 to 2001. The researchers used models to estimate the association between state and federal youth-focused firearm laws mandating a minimum age for the purchase or possession of handguns and state CAP laws requiring safe storage of firearms on suicide rates among youth.

"There were 63,954 suicides among youth aged 14 through 20 years during the 1976-2001 study period, 39,655 (62 percent) of which were committed with firearms," the authors found. "Minimum purchase-age and possession-age laws were not associated with statistically significant reductions in suicide rates among youth aged 14 through 20 years. State CAP laws were associated with a 8.3 percent decrease in suicide rates among 14- to 17-year olds. The annual rate of suicide in this age group in states with CAP laws was 5.97 per 100,000 population rather than the projected 6.51."

The authors report that CAP laws were also associated with a significant reduction in suicides among youth aged 18 through 20 years, however the association was similar for firearm and nonfirearm suicides.

The authors write that "assuming that the observed association is causal, we estimate that the 18 CAP laws implemented prior to 2002 have prevented 333 suicides among youth aged 14 to 17 years from the time that Florida implemented the nation's first CAP law (October 1989) through 2001. In 2001 alone, we estimate that there were 35 fewer suicides among this group in the 18 states with CAP laws than would have been expected without the laws."

The authors conclude, "Further research is needed to ascertain what factors have contributed to the recent decline in firearm suicides among youth in the United States. The timing of the decline is coincident with the adoption of several laws designed to reduce youth access to firearms, yet the only evidence we found that these laws are responsible for reductions in suicides among youth was a modest reduction associated with CAP laws."
(JAMA. 2004; 292: 594-601. Available post-embargo at

Editor's Note: This study was funded by a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control to the Johns Hopkins Center for the Prevention of Youth Violence.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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