- Why might the availability of firearms increase the risk of suicide in the United States? First, many suicidal acts — one third to four fifths of all suicide attempts, according to studies — are impulsive. Among people who made near-lethal suicide attempts, for example, 24% took less than 5 minutes between the decision to kill themselves and the actual attempt, and 70% took less than 1 hour.2
Second, many suicidal crises are self-limiting. Such crises are often caused by an immediate stressor, such as the breakup of a romantic relationship, the loss of a job, or a run-in with police. As the acute phase of the crisis passes, so does the urge to attempt suicide. The temporary nature and fleeting sway of many suicidal crises is evident in the fact that more than 90% of people who survive a suicide attempt, including attempts that were expected to be lethal (such as shooting oneself in the head or jumping in front of a train), do not go on to die by suicide. Indeed, recognizing the self-limiting nature of suicidal crises, penal and psychiatric institutions restrict access to lethal means for persons identified as potentially suicidal.
Third, guns are common in the United States (more than one third of U.S. households contain a firearm) and are lethal. A suicide attempt with a firearm rarely affords a second chance. Attempts involving drugs or cutting, which account for more than 90% of all suicidal acts, prove fatal far less often.