The use of firearms to commit suicide has risen dramatically over the past 25 years, particularly among young men, according to a federal study to be published today.
In a novel argument for gun control, its author, National Institute of Mental Health researcher Dr. Jeffrey H. Boyd, says that greater restrictions on handguns could reduce the number of Americans who kill themselves.
Boyd's study, published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, documents the American suicide rate, adjusted by age, from 1953 to 1978.
While suicide by gunshot increased 45 percent (from 4.9 to 7.1 per 100,000 people) during that period, the overall rate by other means, including gas, poison and hanging, "has not really changed," Boyd said.
Among those under 40, the suicide rate during the 1953-1978 period more than doubled, with the increase largely among young men, the study said.
In an interview, Boyd cited government statistics showing that the rise in suicide by gunshot was "paralleled by a greater rise in the number of firearms" in this country.
Boyd cited other studies in psychiatric journals showing that eight out of 10 firearm suicides are committed with handguns and that the strictness of gun-control laws in different states appears to be "significantly" linked with the suicide rates there. And in Britain, where the most common means of suicide had been gas, a decrease in the lethal carbon monoxide content has cut the rate of suicide there.
"It is conceivable that the rise in the suicide rate in the United States might be controlled by restricting the sale of handguns," he concluded cautiously, adding, "I really haven't followed the gun-control debates as to how politically realistic this is."