teen adolescent suicide
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By Robert B. Young, MD

Short answer: No.

But you wouldn’t know that from the breathless media coverage of a recent study from the Boston University and Harvard’s T.C. Chan’s Schools of Public Health. “Household Gun Ownership and Youth Suicide Rates at the State Level, 2005–2015” was published online by the American Journal of Preventive MedicineJanuary 17.

Suicide is a complex problem. There are bound to be more firearms suicides in households that don’t lock up their guns. But this does not mean firearms cause suicide any more than vehicles cause single-car crashes (a category that probably includes significant numbers of unprovable suicides). And there are more drowning deaths in unmonitored bodies of water than when lifeguards are present.

However—and this is the big one—there is no evidence yet that controlling the availability of firearms is at all associated with changes in overall suicide rates. This is the most important finding about firearms and suicides. It suggests that, despite individual cases of preventable shooting deaths, on a population basis as many people will commit suicide by other means when one becomes less accessible.

International suicide studies confirm that the presence or absence of firearms among civilians is unrelated to the rate of suicide in various countries, which appears primarily to be culturally determined.

There are a couple of things that make one presumptively question this study’s findings. While correlating household firearm ownership with adolescent firearm suicide, the authors found no correlation with substance or alcohol abuse. This is a serious, well-documented risk factor in all suicides, although it may be less so in the earlier ages of their chosen cohort.

They also found no difference in households whether guns were known to be locked up or not. They point themselves to previous work that documents that this makes a difference, as of course it would.

Two things particularly make this study deceptive and therefore a red herring for the question posed.

First, the ages of “youth” chosen range from 10-19 years old. These ages cannot fairly be considered the same kind of “youth” because they do not reflect the same sorts of risks.

The average 10-year-old can be far less responsible for his safety than the average 19-year-old. A 10-year-old still requires day-to-day monitoring that should be unnecessary and would be inappropriate for the 19-year-old, who is legally and essentially an adult. Most locked storage will prevent a 10-year-old’s access. Most would not forestall a determined 19-year-old.

The big problem with firearms used in suicide is when they are take up on impulse or at the final, determined moment—then there is usually no rescue possible (unlike with some, not all, other modes of self-harm). The 10-year-old is more impulsive, likely with poorer understanding of the finality of his actions. The 19-year-old should understand what death means and is more likely to seek it intentionally, following a set plan.

Second, the authors counted gun ownership only as of 2004, while looking at suicide rates from 2005 through 2015, and basically averaging them. Obviously, changes in gun ownership rates from 2004 through 2015 should be accounted for in examining the relationship of these chronologically concurrent factors.

The mainstream media perspective on gun ownership, which one suspects would be part of such research’s DNA, says that gun ownership by household has declined from about 43% in 2004 to about 40% in 2015. Another survey suggests that household gun ownership rates have been roughly stable from 2004-2015.

But what can they make of firearm suicide rates increasing, while the number of households with guns decreases or doesn’t change? Perhaps issues about safe storage and poor judgment could be implicated, but with the increasing focus on these subjects in both pro- and anti-gun circles, it’s hard to believe these factors are generally worsening.

Of course, that “mainstream” perspective is nonsense. Gun ownership nationwide is increasing dramatically every year. Federal databases indicate that the number of guns per American (while the population simultaneously grows) increased from about 1.2 per person in 2004 to about 1.4 in 2015. That’s an increase of 17%, if that were the whole picture.

But we know that many gun owners now decline to reveal their gun ownership to anonymous surveyors. And that millions of New York, Connecticut and New Jersey residents have refused to turn themselves in for retaining firearms and accessories that those states have made illegal in recent years. Gun owners are going to ground in order to preserve their right to these tools of liberty.

Some portion of the many millions of background checks every year (covering 85% or more of all firearm purchases) are for new gun owners purchasing firearms. We can more directly judge individual handgun ownership by noting the enormous increase in concealed carry permits from 2007 (4.6 million) to 2018 (17.25 million)—even with the increasing prevalence of constitutional carry in states that do not require permits. While that is not 2004 to 2015, it establishes a rate of increase in individual handgun ownership of more than 25% per year.

According to the CDC, overall suicides for ages 10-19 years (mostly with handguns) increased from about 5/100,000 in 2004 to about 6/100,000 in 2015, about 20%. The firearms suicide rate for these ages increased from about 2.1/100,000 to about 2.4/100,000, or about 14%. During this time, suffocation (including hanging) became the leading method for this age group’s suicide; it used to be only half the number of suicides using firearms.

So, how can these enormous increases in household (or individual, for that matter) gun ownership be responsible for such a relatively small increase in the rate of any suicides? And how, if firearms suicide is the concern, can it be rising slower than suicide by all methods?

We know a lot that’s true about the relationship of legal gun ownership and crime, violence, suicide, etc. We know that more guns equals less crime, or at least does not increase it. We know that universal background checks do not change rates of violence or suicide. We know that reducing restrictive concealed carry legislation does not increase homicide or other violent crime rates. We know that far more violence, death and injuries are prevented by civilian gun use than actually occur. We know that American gun ownership does not affect overall suicide rates.

Now we know that it is not a significant factor in shifting firearm suicide rates. In fact, if you looked at the charts mentioned above, you’ll see there was a dip in adolescent firearm suicides (and their suicides overall) during the mid-2000’s while gun ownership was consistently growing. The only correlation to be found is that firearm suicides generally parallel suicides by all methods.

Are we responsible for what happens with our guns? Of course—and that means keeping them out of the hands of youth until we are sure they are properly trained and demonstrate maturity and competence. We will stop preventable firearm suicides by our adolescent children and their visitors that way.

Could any public policy legislation prevent or reduce firearm suicides on the whole in this age group? Of course not.

Will this kind of research continue to be published, despite its meaninglessness? Certainly, because it keeps fanning the fires of hoplophobia. It’s for the kids, after all, and if we save just one . . .

Be sure to check our list of all the ways that researchers prejudice their findings according to their agendas: “Reading ‘Gun Violence’ Research Critically”. Maybe you can pick out the several ways the Boston public health cabal did so here. And for fun and personal profit, read Dr. Przebinda’s Spuriouser and Spuriouser and look at Spurious Correlations.

Correlation does not equal causation. Certainly not when conflating America’s civilian gun ownership boom with adolescent firearm suicides.


Robert B. Young, MD is a psychiatrist practicing in Pittsford, NY, an associate clinical professor at the University of Rochester School of Medicine, and a Distinguished Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association.

This article originally appeared at drgo.us and is reprinted here with permission. 

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  1. Hope Dr. Young does not suffer the consequences of expressing the SANE TRUTH about civilian ownership, carry, and use of firearms.

  2. Real simple solution to this non existant problem. If you feel you need a gun in the house for possible present or future protection then lock the gun into something that will keep your children away from it. Hmm, too simple isn’t it?

    • A quick-access handgun or carbine safe is a good investment if you have kids or worry about burglars stealing your guns when you’re not home. I know my dogs aren’t going to shoot themselves with a gun in a drawer.

    • I’d prefer you do what you consider responsible, and I will do what I consider responsible, and 2A says what I do with my children and my guns is my business, and no one else’s. It’s not that tough.

      • If you are being negligent and endangering your kids that is the business of society.
        Other than that, I agree.

  3. Worked more suicides than I care to remember. Grim duty. Never did a scientific study on age, methods, or reason. One thing I did learn. If someone wants to kill themself, they’ll do it. Regardless of method.

  4. What I’m positive of though is this. Having grown up in a household with a number of guns easily accessible in unlocked display cases popular at the time that if I had touched any of those guns without my fathers permission or in his presence I would have had my ass beat. Was I scared or suicidal because of that fact, no. That was simply the rule and my brother, sister and I obeyed the rules. Seems the problem lies somewhere else. Like maybe in how these Candy-ass parents are raising their snowflake children maybe?

    • Bruce Clark,

      Seems the problem lies somewhere else. Like maybe in how these Candy-ass parents are raising their snowflake children maybe?

      Exactly this. Raise your children with love, compassion, affection, affirmation, encouragement, boundaries, limits, and discipline and your children will be fine people 99% (or more) of the time.

      • Speaking of how you raise you kids….

        We have loony morally bankrupt parents, vile teachers, socialist politicians, SJW all teaching our kids to question there “gender” and pushing them into this trans garbage.
        They know that 40% of the individuals who undergo sex alterations attempt suicide.

        But no, its the guns that cause suicide.

        • would say that homosexuality and gender issues are bigger causes of suicide…a gun is just one of many methods to carry it out….

    • I think there are multiple things going on here.

      Candy ass parents raising snowflake kids probably has little or nothing to do with firearms as a means of suicide specificallyl. A young person intent on offing themselves doesn’t care about rules about “don’t touch” because by the time you find out they broke the rule they’re dead. That means your rule means nothing to them and probably nothing to you at that point.

      Where poor parenting may have some effect is on the mental resilience of the youth. It might make them more susceptible to the precursors to suicide. If that is true I suspect it’s not a big percentage.

      Where I suspect the problem mainly lies is in family structure and support. We know that people who have a healthy family and social life are less prone to addiction with drugs and alcohol. Those who lack a healthy support structure are more prone to substance issues. We also know that those with healthy family and support systems are less likely to turn to crime, such as gang activity.

      I would suspect, though I cannot prove, that this probably applies to suicide as well. Both substance abuse and suicide are linked to anxiety and depression which are linked to poor social support structures. It makes logical sense to think that suicide and addiction may be branches of the same general tree.

      While poor discipline in the home undoubtedly causes problems those problems are probably not violence, substance abuse and suicide. These problems probably mostly stem from family and social issues much worse than a lack of discipline.

      • When I was a kid, the bullying stopped at the doors. When I made it home, I was safe as there was no Facebook, Instagram, Twitter to continue the assault. There was respite for a good 16 hours. When I knocked the bully flat, that was it, it was over. I didn’t have to worry about a pack of bullies coming over for retribution. Honor still existed, although it was on the way out. Now there is no escape for kids today. They can’t fight back like I (we) could. I am sure lack of parenting all around contributes to it. Probably more to do with the bully’s parents not paying attention to their beautiful, sweet innocent child and the recipients parents being too busy to notice or not knowing what to do.

  5. I would argue that it is the mental disease know as the Left and it programs along with their concentrated push to degrade our society that leads to increased suicide rate among the population in general.

    If one were to ban Marxist Leftardism and thus start healing of our society.

    • Yeah, no. American liberals are not Marxist anymore than American conservatives are fascist.

      None of which has anything to do with suicide rates.

      • The classical liberal,from the root libertarian,has been overtaken by the modern left which is a form of Socialist/Marxist/Totalitarian.
        Classic liberals didn’t hate America and it’s people,the new left does,so much so that even the murder of new born babies is acceptable to them,now tell me about liberals.

  6. Parents are responsible for their children up to a point. Beyond that point, parents accountable.

    For example: if a 10 year-old child wakes up in the middle of the night, sneaks out of the house, and does something terribly destructive, that is not the parent’s fault IF the parents raised their child sensibly.

    What I am getting at is that parents cannot possibly have their children within arm’s reach at all times. Parents have to sleep, shower, work, etc. As long as parents raised their children sensibly and have a reasonably safe environment, they have done everything that they can. If a child acts in a crafty manner at that point and subverts the parents, that is no longer on the parents.

  7. I vehemently disagree with the author’s assertion that 19year old’s have more sense than 10 year old kids. Some do-lot’s don’t. I got a girl pregnant,got in car wrecks and got high at 19. Lot’s of friend’s did likewise. Testosterone ya’know?!? I’ve never seriously contemplated suicide either as a 10 year old or 19…or now at 64. Guns were easily available at all 3 ages. Life is precious. Death is eternal. Man up and don’t off yourself…

  8. The “short answer” would most certainly be NO, written in Capitol letters. That said, the question strikes me as an extremely dumb question.

  9. Guns kill. Duh. So do knives and bats and rope and glass and medications and on and on and on. The argument of proximate means is legitimate up to a point but in virtually all cases where a gun is NOT proximate to the individual, another method will be used.
    A gun in the house, or even in the same room does not plant the seed or cause an action.
    Statistics suck, there are statistics on that. You can skew a study or a poll to mean almost anything you’d like it to.
    Parenting, personal responsibility, social pressures, video games (yes) and violence on TV and movies, culture, drugs, mental illness and a hundred other things lead to suicide. A gun doesn’t pull its own trigger any more than a rope ties it’s own know and wraps around a neck.

    • Video games don’t influence people. If pacman influenced me I’d be sitting in the dark, popping pills, seeing ghosts, and listening to awful techno music.

      And I’ll use my son as an example. He’s been playing PC games since the age of 6, and he is nearly 11. I was there to supervise and moderate the behaviour, which is probably one big factor here. The games helped with his hand-to-eye coordination, situational and spacial awareness, map reading and navigation, and the basics of aviation. Being in the chess club at school he took to strategy games as an extension of chess but with more strategic and tactical options. He loves playing Age Of Empires II.

  10. Stop demonizing a tool, people will do what they want and usually in suisides there is no intervention.

    But to blame the tool will mean there must be restrictions on the tool, so are cars, rope, knives and even high places to become illegal to own or frequent?

    Most people who commit suicide, murder or robberies are known looooong before they do the deed.

  11. By using this level of logic in categorizing methods of suicide we can all agree that Japan has a serious problem with trains and forests….

    • It’s a bad enough problem in Japan with train suicides that the government is trying a PR campaign to ‘shame’ people into not committing suicide by stepping in front of a train.

      Seriously. The station poster campaign points out that getting ‘splotched’ by a train inconveniences the railroad and emergency services to clean it up and delays passengers getting where they are going…

  12. I hate to be callous but has anyone ever explained to today’s kids that it’s not okay to kill yourself or others. I think this falls in line with the participation trophy syndrome. Not everyone is a winner and you’re not that special until you accomplish something. Do you understand the angst produced when mom or dad aren’t there to make it better (or even to pick them up after school). These kids have been trained to run and hide from life’s challenges, and when they can’t hide, they kill themselves or someone else. Locking away your firearms is a bandaid at best, and not effective at worst. Quite frankly, I think we’re looking at evolution at work. The strong survive. It’s just unfortunate that the weak will, sometimes, take out others in the process.

    • That’s actually a thing. Today’s society is more accepting of suicide than in the past. Blame it on whatever you like…decline of traditional American values, absentee parenting, electronics and the instant gratification/condemnation that can come from dozens or hundreds, selfish values….it is a real issue.
      Another thing we see is contagion of suicide. When a high profile, celebrity, friend, family member, etc… completes suicide, those affected become at increased risk.
      Scary stuff.
      Everyone should read Col. Jeff Grossman’s “Assasination Generation”. Does a great job dissecting this problem.

    • It really isn’t necessary. These studies are being manipulated. If we look at total suicides the rate is going up, yes but so is population.

      Adjusted for population the suicide rate in 1960 was about 11, it peaked in the mid 1970’s at about 12.6 then moved around a bit dropping to 9.9 in 20000 then rising to 10.9 or so in 2007. 2007, while not the lowest year on record is pretty close to it. That’s where all this data starts. Starting from one of the low years means nearly everything will be an increase.

      Current crude numbers are about 12 per 100,000, 14 when age adjusted putting us on par with 1977.

      Adjusted numbers and crude numbers both show that, if we go back to 1960, (as far as the data goes as far as I can tell) the rate has remained pretty darn stable. We just talk about it more today than we used to which creates the illusion that the suicide rate has jumped enormously.

  13. In Asia they like to jump off high places, hang themselves, use carbon dioxide or jump in-front of trains. The number of successful suicides shows that guns are not necessary to get the job done.

    An Asian kid doesn’t need to wait until they’re 18 to kill themselves; they simply walk to the top of their apartment building then jump. A kid in America could wait until they’re 18 years old to buy a gun and use it to kill themselves or they can simply do what the Asian kids do.

    So, banning guns or making nonsensical infringements won’t stop suicides of those people committed to ending their suffering. Most people will not advocate for arresting suicidal people and putting them in a straitjacket for the rest of their lives to save them from themselves. We need to focus on mental health, parenting, etc. Focusing on guns is disingenuous and dishonest because guns are not the problem.

    People who blame guns are ignoring the suffering people in America and are using those unfortunate souls to get what statists want, which is complete control of the population without physical resistance possible. These liars also like to label suicide as “gun violence” in the same way they label gang activities as “gun violence.”

    Gun grabbers don’t care about you nor your kids. They care about themselves and their kids.

    • In my lifetime I’ve known a small number of American kids that died unnatural deaths. A couple in fires. One to disease. One to a motorcycle. In my hometown 5 kids from the same family drowned in a city pool that was closed for the season.

      Only suicide was an 18yo that hung himself.

      • How lucky for you! I’ve lost count. I do recall a high school classmate whose 16-year-old daughter blew out the thinking part of her brain (with a gun), leaving her a vegetable on life support for 20 years before she died, and whose 12-year-old brother successfully hung himself a week later. How she is still with us, I actually cannot imagine. An Iranian student pilot flew vertically into the ground at around 550 mph, which I could never manage to attribute to anything but suicide. And more I don’t care to recall, much more boring.

  14. I’ve known just as many people who killed themselves by driving in front of a train as with a firearm. One took her dog with her. In all Ive known 6 people who committed suicide. 2 by firearm,2 by train and 2 by OD. The manner is of little consequence. The act is. The why in the end only mattered to the person who died. As in all cases those left behind had no understanding. Those who want to kill themselves will regardless of the how or the why.

    • If it were up to me, every OD would be considered a suicide. That’s around 60K a year, now, right? Maybe we should outlaw drugs?

  15. The USA had a suicide rate of 15.6 per 100,000 population across all age groups in the late 1990’s. In contrast Japan, a country with virtually no private gun ownership, had an average rate of 22.2 per 100,000 population during the same period. Clearly, a gun is not necessary for someone to successfully commit suicide, nor is having a gun around a driving cause of suicide. Emotional duress and mental illness are the root causes, not guns.

  16. The biggest cause of suicide among youngsters is the side effects of the ADD and ADHD control drugs given them. These drugs are on the same schedule as Heroin and Cocaine. They cause suicidal tendencies. And suicidal individuals use what ever means is immediately at hand. Among youth on these drugs that have committed suicide a large number have hung themselves, a few doused themselves with gasoline and lit a match, some sat in a running car in a closed garage and yes some have used firearms and there were the setting in a hot tub of water and opening the veins and then there were the ones who jumped from tall buildings and high bridges. A suicidal individual doesn’t fixate on one means and wait for the opportunity, that gives them time to talk themselves out of it. These are immediate actions with whatever is at hand.

    • And obviously you know nothing about pharmacology. Or mental illness. Or suicide. But, thanks for opining as it proves the old axiom,

  17. Using the articles premise.
    Pools cause kids to intentionally drown.
    Cars make people drink and drive.
    Pure stupidity to make a point with no fact behind it.

    • You’re late for breaking news. TTAG already covered this.

      You got my hopes up that another antifa useful idiot had died.

  18. I think the real question here is “Why is this such an issue?”.

    What I mean by that is suicide is indeed the 10th leading cause of death in the US but for kids under 15 and those 15-24 it’s a low per capita rate. It’s a rate way lower than the other age groups. Way lower. It’s also lower than many other forms the Reaper takes both in general and especially for 15-24 year olds. In other words it’s a relatively minor issue. Tragic but minor.

    So why does it keep getting brought up in the context of gun control? Especially in terms of kids when the major group committing suicide is middle-aged white men.

    Because it’s an emotional argument that opens the door to suggestion. It’s advertising to sell gun control. Just like the focus on school shootings. They’re rare, a statistical anomaly but they get a ton of coverage because the tug heart-strings and emotionally open the door to more advertising.

    This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t address suicide but we should understand how and why this kind of “news” is created, what it does and what that means overall. Only then can we counter it effectively. Arguing facts and statistics doesn’t work very well. You can’t reason someone out of a position they emoted themselves into and, like philosophy, you can get people to agree with you in principle but at the end of the day they will go right back to thinking (or voting) the way they did before your conversation.

    • For the same reason many of the other hyped reasons for deaths involving guns are hyped beyond their statistical relevance: in order to gain support for the gun control movement from emotionally manipulable people, especially women.

      This has been a constant in gun control, going back to the late 80’s.

      • All people are emotionally manipulable if you find the right buttons to push.

        Advertising works both ways. The faster we recognize and embrace the notion that we have to manipulate people the faster things will start to work in our favor.

        • Most all people can be emotionally manipulated – this is very true.

          I know the gun grabbers, and have heard their schemes for emotional manipulation since the late 80’s. The emotional manipulation started with Sarah Brady in the early 90’s – she would tell her story about finding a .22 handgun on the loose in her family vehicle. Brady found she couldn’t get the needed amount of emotional chain-jerking by bringing her husband on the tour with her, so she switched to the children+guns angle.

          It isn’t an accident that they’ve cobbling together a group like “Mothers Demand Action” and so on. They’re trying to replicate the success that “Mothers Against Drunk Driving” have had in twisting stats and policy goals, with tear-jerking and manipulation.

        • You don’t fight a war by engaging in the battles where your adversary has massive advantages. You don’t fight at night where your adversary has night vision and you don’t just as 3,000 years ago, you don’t fight on smooth ground if your adversary has 1,000 chariots. And yo don’t stand still in tight formation if your enemy has ranged weapons and you don’t.

          Advertising would literally be the most idiotic thing for us. Our adversaries have ten times the money. They have the science and can use that in advertising, since they have bought it with tens of millions in grants. Most importantly they have the free media from a sympathetic mass media.

          The strength of second amendment advocacy is actual members in the organisations lobbying their members of congress and legislatures and getting out and voting.

  19. Japan, with few civilian firearms, has a Suicide Rate higher than the gun rich USA’s.

  20. ? does. facebooK cause adolescents to commit suicidE . maybe, but if it does ,they use drugs, cars, tidepods, ropes, electrical sockets,bridges cars, railroad tracks, buildings, booze, ovens,knives and gunns no it’s definitely the inanimate object gunnS .has nothing to do with mental instabilitY

    • OOoo! Nice! So, like, I don’t facebook, and I have NEVER committed suicide, not even once! How many suicides in the past 3 years (%) were regular facebookers? I think I see what needs to be outlawed, no?

  21. “Gun owners are going to ground in order to preserve their right to these tools of liberty.”

    It’s called “patterned evasion of public norms” and results when traditional cultural values are made illegal through government intervention. When this happens people will seek to discover new ways of continuing their traditional and customary behavior despite the existence of coercive laws. The 55mph speed limit era created a stong demand for ever sophisticated radar detectors. With the right electronic countermeasures you could drive as fast as you wanted to.

  22. He didn’t need a gun. He could have bought one. Instead he chose a high place for everyone to see the results.

  23. Feeling sorry for yourself because of what some ass online says about is nuts and that seems to the cause of the increase in youth suicides. They can access lamp cords and rope easier. Or knives.

  24. A permanent solution to a temporary problem.

    I have contemplated blowing my brains out.

    Thank the Lord above to convince me otherwise.

  25. What is YOUR problem? For years I have following group- and now I need to verify myself?

    Fuck you & the horse you road in on.

    The Truth About Guns – what a worthless piece of crap you are.

  26. No one has ever been killed by a gun. Guns are things and things have no volition of their own. People have that, volition, sentience, awareness, intent, the will to act. No weapon or non-weapon has that, no manufactured thing or fallen tree branch has that.

    For a solution to the actions people take, look to people. Solve that one.

  27. I entirely reject the premise that suicide should have any bearing on gun rights. It’s just as easy to step in front of a bus.

    It’s not our responsibility to give up our rights and bubble-wrap the world for the sake of the suicidal.

    • bottom line….just another tactic to limit your gun rights…doubt if they’re convincing many

  28. I’m surprised that he didn’t mention that countries like Japan and South Korea, where civilians can’t have firearms, have much higher suicide rates than the US.

    And research that indicates that adolescents who are prescribed psychoactive drugs and then stop taking them, during the next few weeks and months after stopping become suicidal and/or homicidal.

  29. As with all the ills in our society, no one wants to accept responsibility. It has to be someone/something elses fault. In this case it is guns. You can stack the stats however you want to make your narrative work.

  30. Kids rarely use guns for suicide. They would rather take pills, slit their wrist, overdose on drugs, or jump off a bridge… and… If they are hell bent on taking their own lives…. they will find a way. Stop trying to blame guns on everything and blame humans for their own idiocies…Guns don’t shoot themselves.

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