Wintemute & Co. Skew Data on Handgun Ownership and Suicide Rates in Newly Published Study

Pile of Pennies

Photo by Carl “Bear” Bussjaeger

No doubt you’ve heard about the recent study showing that handgun owners are far more likely to commit suicide than non-owners. I was a little dubious about the reports, so I went to the source: the paper, Handgun Ownership and Suicide in California. Right off, I saw that one of the authors is Garen Wintemute, who has a long history of…questionable collection and use of data. This paper is no exception.

What Wintemute and associates claim to have found is . . .

Rates of suicide by any method were higher among handgun owners, with an adjusted hazard ratio of 3.34 for all male owners as compared with male nonowners (95% confidence interval [CI], 3.13 to 3.56) and 7.16 for female owners as compared with female nonowners (95% CI, 6.22 to 8.24). …

Handgun ownership is associated with a greatly elevated and enduring risk of suicide by firearm.

The researchers started by data mining decades of personally identifiable records — voter registration, Dealer Records of Sale (DROS), and mortality records. They traced individuals by location for 31 years, from January 1, 1985 to December 31, 2016. The idea was to match handgun buyers with suicides. And, sure enough, they found a strong correlation in their 2004-2016 study period.

Once they first threw out the inconvenient data.

The final analytic data set was at the person–period level. It excluded cohort members who had acquired one or more handguns before coming under observation during the study period and cohort members with missing census tracts or birth dates (Fig. S1). We also excluded observation time from registrants younger than 21 years of age, the minimum age for lawful handgun acquisition in California.

In other words, they excluded 1,313,028 living people who had already owned handguns for as long as 20 years without committing suicide. They only looked at new buyers, 676,425 people. They tossed nearly two-thirds of all handgun owners out of their data set because they hadn’t offed themselves yet.

Let’s say you have a pile of nickels and pennies, and you want to know what percentage of them were minted in a given year, say 2005. You sort the nickels and pennies into separate piles. You check nickel dates and find that 3% were minted that year.

Then you sort through your pennies, and toss out any that were minted before 2004. Now you check the dates and discover that three times (!) as many pennies as nickels were minted in 2005; 9%. Big surprise.

Garen Wintemute

Dr. Garen Wintemute (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

That, in effect, is what Wintemute and his fellow learned scholars did. To them, a non-suicidal gun owner is just a bad penny.

At most, they may have found a correlation between new or first-time handgun buyers and suicide. Maybe. But they are falsely presenting this as a correlation with handgun ownership.


  1. avatar Curious Creedmoor says:

    A person standing on the pedestrian bridge is more likely to jump off of it than someone standing on the highway – checkmate, pro-bridgers.

    1. avatar Austin M. says:

      And people who own cars are more likely to die in a car accident or get hit by a drunk driver.

  2. avatar Dennis says:

    All I needed to do was see the photo of “Dr. Garen” to know what the alleged poll was gonna illustrate!

  3. avatar Leighton Cavendish says:

    And suicide is a choice…just like abortion…your body…your choice…RIGHT lefties???

    1. avatar I Haz A Question says:

      …except that it’s the disposal of another human being’s body, so…

      TTAG is a great place to start a conversation with guns, then leap off into tangential topics such as abortion, economics, religion, marriage, etc. Guns really *are* part of everything in life. 😉

    2. avatar Red in CO says:

      Well, unlike abortion, suicide solely involves the taking of ones OWN life, so… yes, it is absolutely a right, maybe not a good idea, but definitely a right

      1. avatar Mark N. says:

        Historically, attempted suicide was a prosecutable offense, and still is in many places. Obviously, successful suicides are not prosecuted. Any way, attempted suicide is not a crime in California, nor is a successful one.

    3. avatar Matthew Hoy says:

      Seeing as assisted suicide is legal in California, why do they really care about unassisted suicide? Is it because a doctor can’t bill you?

      1. avatar Ing says:

        It’s because the state has to give you permission first. You are not allowed to make such a momentous decision on your own. When the state has given you permission to die, one of its approved agents will kill you.

        1. avatar Miner49er says:

          Sorry, the reason the suicide must be assisted is because often mentally ill people seek suicide as a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

          Reasonable citizens believe having a doctor involved is a good idea to prevent a suicide by someone who is mentally incompetent to make such a decision.

        2. avatar Sam I Am says:

          “Reasonable citizens believe having a doctor involved is a good idea to prevent a suicide by someone who is mentally incompetent to make such a decision.”

          Mentally incompetent as determined by who? If a person is so mentally incompetent that they cannot be allowed control over their lives, such persons should be put in an environment with 24/7 video surveillance, one-on-one monitoring of the individual. People so incompetent as to be denied their natural, human and civil right to determine whether they stay or go are not likely to ever be competent.

          Question, what value to the incompetent individual is preserved by require them to continue living a life of incompetence? And if an incompetent individual can be forced by the state to remain alive, what is the justification for the death penalty? Both the incompetent, and the criminal violate the sensibilities of the group. Why the vast difference in how the group treats them?

          In the end, a person belongs to themselves, or is the property of another person, or organization. If we are beholden to the group as regards our decision to stay or go, then we also belong to the group for every other, and lesser, aspect of our lives. Which is it? Are we free individuals, or economic units of the group? Can’t have it both ways.

        3. avatar Ing says:

          Just as I said, Miner. Under the “progressive” left, no individual may decide for himself what to do with his life. When the government decides you’re allowed to die, one of its agents will kill you.

      2. avatar Sam I Am says:

        “Is it because a doctor can’t bill you?”

        You may be on to something, there.

  4. avatar strych9 says:

    I can think of a few reasons why they whittled down the data set. Generally speaking there’s nothing wrong with adjusting your population samples to exclude errors, provided you don’t do that for the wrong reasons.

    But you always have to ask if what you’re left with is useful. In this case I’d be highly doubtful, if you’ve got to discard this much of your dataset the whole thing is probably garbage from the jump and it’s essentially guaranteed that what you’re left with is a dumpster fire.

    This kind of bullshit is exactly why I prefer numbers from an astronomical observation or a calculation on gases and liquids escaping Mars over the last billion years. A lot less politics.

    1. avatar Rusty - Die Ruthie Die - Chains says:

      Dude, there has been more gas over Mars than anything short of Trump or the gun debate going back all the way to at least Bradbury’s Chronicles thereof in 1950.

      Snark gas flows freely there!

  5. avatar GS650G says:

    Most suicides in Japan are by train. They need to control and possibly ban those things.

    1. avatar I Haz A Question says:

      How many are by bullet train?

      ba-boom-pah! Thank you, thank you. I’m here all week. Be sure to tip your waitress.

    2. avatar Tedzilla says:

      The most popular methods of suicide in Japan are hanging and jumping from high places.
      Aren’t we here to debunk false statements, not add to them?

      1. avatar that one guy says:

        Perhaps, but once you exclude people who have killed themselves without the use of third parties in vehicles that are rail-bound, train suicides are number one, two, and three.

      2. avatar CC says:

        @Ted What is interesting is that Japan and S. Korea may have no different suicide rates than California, NY, Mississippi, Australia, Canada, France, Italy or anywhere in the world.

        There is virtually no shame or stigma to suicide in Korea and Japan so they have no religious, institutional or cultural factors that cause vast under-reporting of suicide elsewhere.

        also we don’t have any idea as to number, rate and prevalence of suicide elsewhere. In fact a dozen studies have shown that if a country state or county adopts more prevalent autopsy funding, suicide rates increase. Do we really think autopsies cause people to commit suicide? They don’t they just increase the accurate counting of the huge number of suicide that would otherwise have been classified as accidental.

        My neighbor’s daughter had depression and left undergrad in her junior year after a bad breakup. She had an “accidental” overdose death a month later. We all knew it was suicide, but it statistically “accidental” due to vast misclassification. If she had used a gun it would have been classified as suicide and “’caused” by the gun. Instead she used prescription medicine and it was an ‘accident.”

      3. avatar GS650G says:

        When I lived there the trains were very popular methods. But you seem to be the expert.

  6. avatar Sam in Ohio says:

    Even given the dubious methodology, I’m not sure what possible use such a study would be relative to preventing suicide. It’s like a study trying to prevent drunk driving being published concluding people who buy alcohol are ____ times more likely to be drunk drivers than people who don’t buy alcohol.

    I suppose that proponents of such useless garbage will argue it makes a case for banning handgun sales to prevent gun suicides, but you’re not really attempting to understand the underlying causation of the person’s impulse to take their own life because that would be oh so much more useful than this turd filled punch bowl.

  7. avatar CC says:

    1. Zero control for region type or job demographics. Worldwide and in the US, rural areas and persons in involved in farming have much higher suicide rates. They do in India, in Scandinavia, in Canada and in the US. In the US the rural population has higher access to firearms. so you get a correlation, but clearly non-causal correlation since in other other counties with virtual zero guns one also sees steep elevation in suicide rates in urban areas.

    2. It is well established that huge proportion, in many countries, most, suicide are wrongly classified as accidental death. Just go to and put suicide misclassification or hidden suicide in the search bar. Scores of peer reviewed articles showing this.

    And what types of self caused death that are suicide are likely to be properly classified as sucide? Gun suicide. And what types of suicide are most likely to mistakenly be determined as accidental ? Every other kind.

    We know for a fact from peer reviewed studies that interview medical examiners that a coroner or medical examiner will begin a self inflicted gunshot presentation with presumption of suicide. yet will begin all other means of self caused death (except self hanging) with a presumption of accident. Drug overdose death being as accident, and if M.E. does not see a suicide note (which family will very often fail to disclose) or the family telling them the victim had a history of depression it gets marked as accidental.

    so gun suicide is massively overcounted relative to other means. and we need no better example than Australia, which reduced access to guns by 50% in the space of less than a year and reduced gun suicide, and thought they reduced suicide overall — but in fact self caused death by all means associated with suicide did not fall whatsoever. Two things occurred: a) more suicide by other means occurred and b) a huge and sustained increase in self caused “accidental death” occurred as well.

    do we think that for some reason Australians became hugely more lethally clumsy exactly when gun access was reduced??? That because there were less guns people began to trip from rooftops “accidentally” fatally fall more often? That a huge increase in “accidental”asphyxia occurred at that time out of nowhere?

    Remove guns and you just more sucide by other means or worse yet, sweep more suicide under the rug misclassified as “accidental”

    What s Garen Wintemute is doing is HARMING suicide prevention by diverting the issue to the to meaningless issue of “means” as opposed to mental health cause where the addressing this issue needs to occur

    1. avatar Miner49er says:

      Good post, you bring forth manyany interesting observations.

      I think the point is, guns ownership does not cause suicide, it just makes it very easy.

      And once the decision has been made and executed, there is no going back. Often, when people are discovered with a self-inflicted drug overdose or asphyxiation or self-inflicted wounds, there’s a opportunity to reverse the process and save their life.

      The problem with firearms, there is no going back, it is an incredibly successful method of attempting suicide.

    2. avatar Someone says:

      Wintemute couldn’t care less about suicide prevention. He is gun grabber first and foremost, his goal is public disarmament by any means. Only reason for his involvement in this kind of “study” is to give another talking point to Bloomberg and his cohorts. To create a varnish of reasonableness for their disarmist policies. If he needs to twist facts or straightforward lie, so be it.

  8. avatar Jon in CO says:

    You don’t say? People will handguns were more likely to die vis suicide by firearm? Weird.

    I’m glad to know these people make money doing things which a normal person could figure out by themselves.

    More likely to drown with pool. Less likely to fall down stairs in a ranch style home. More likely to slip in the shower if you take a shower!

    1. avatar Mark N. says:

      t is worse than you think. Wintemute is paid by the State of California–through a tax levied on gun owners–to study “gun violence” and “gun violence prevention.” In other words, gun owners are paid to pay for studies that are going to be used to limit access to firearms.

      1. avatar George Washington says:

        That’s fkn sick…. and what’s even more sick is Americans go right along with this garbage…. they happily pay the tax in Kuntifornia…. these mfers need to stand up for their rights
        …… yeah… right…. lol

  9. avatar Jim from LI says:

    The researcher is a true genius. After painstaking study he determined that most handgun suicides are by handgun owners. If you wrote him a big enough grant he could finally solve that “Is water wet?” question we’ve been struggling with.

    I’ve always favored carbon monoxide as a way out, but with those darn catalytic converters it takes for-freaking-ever.

  10. avatar Red in CO says:

    No shit, people who own firearms are more likely to commit suicide in a ballistic manner than people who don’t own firearms? I suppose the next groundbreaking observation from
    these geniuses will be that people who live near tall buildings are more likely to kill themselves by jumping than anyone who doesn’t live near tall buildings. No doubt followed by the earth shattering study that proves water is wet

  11. avatar Sam I Am says:

    “They tossed nearly two-thirds of all handgun owners out of their data set because they hadn’t offed themselves yet.”

    Well, yeah. People who haven’t committed suicide by gun should not be included in a study of people who committed suicide using a gun.

    Science is about numbers. Statistics are about numbers. Numbers are inantimate. Numbers can have no politics, or agenda. Science must be the basis for policy decisions, otherwise people will just make decisions based on who knows what. Science deniers are directly responsible for all the suicides because of the ready availbility of firearms. And the distribution of ownership is provably, by numbers, racist and socio-economic class discrimination. People who can afford guns and commit suicide with them encourage less financially able people to commit suicide because it is so easy with a gun. Poor people can’t afford guns, so they use cheaper methods of suicide, which is unfair all around. If it weren’t for guns there would be less suicide because there would not be examples set by the wealthy of how easy suicide can solve personal problems. The poor try to copycat the wealthy, and end up using less efficient methods, which is discriminatory and unfair. The study at hand shows that people who commit suicide with guns are more likely to own guns. Ergo, without guns, suicide statistics reflecting the use of guns would not be so heavily populated with gun owners!!

    1. avatar Jordan says:

      Numbers are like people. If you torture them enough, they will say whatever you want them to say.

      1. avatar Sam I Am says:

        “Numbers are like people. If you torture them enough, they will say whatever you want them to say.”

        Nuh uh. Numbers have no nerve endings, no feelings. They can’t be beaten into admitting they are not the number they are. Numbers are pure, they can’t be tainted. You gotta believe in science and numbers. They will lead you to the promised land.

        1. avatar Darkman says:

          Accounting practices 101
          How much is 1+1
          Answer: Whatever the Boss wants it to be.

        2. avatar Sam I Am says:

          “Accounting practices 101
          How much is 1+1
          Answer: Whatever the Boss wants it to be.”

          Zackly. However, note that no numbers were tortured or killed. They just remained numbers.

          (Of course, enhanced interrogation methods were not really germane to my erudite, lengthy, illuminating and pompous original comment)

    2. avatar Ing says:

      That is some truly impressive circular reasoning. Are you sure you’re not really a progressive?

      1. avatar Sam I Am says:

        “That is some truly impressive circular reasoning. Are you sure you’re not really a progressive?”

        Not really a progressive, but I sometimes play one on TV.

        A second read of the comment, may be illuminating.

        1. avatar Ing says:

          I know you weren’t serious. It’s just that you’re so good at it that it gives me the heebie-jeebies sometimes.

        2. avatar Sam I Am says:

          “I know you weren’t serious. It’s just that you’re so good at it that it gives me the heebie-jeebies sometimes.”

          A person isn’t rationally mature until they can hold two opposing positions in their head simultaneously.

          Of course, in my case, all I have to do is memorize utter nonsense and regurgitate it for fun and profit. No actual thinking required.

  12. avatar Tim Kiphart says:

    Daren seems very familiar. Was he the kid who played the banjo in the movie Deliverence?

  13. avatar Mark N. says:

    So he says that NEW gun buyers or owners of a single firearm are more likely to commit suicide than nonowners–but excluded owners of MULTIPLE firearms, presumably because they have a LOWER rate of suicide. So there you go, to reduce your risk of suicide BUY MORE GUNS!!

  14. avatar Ralph says:

    Report: 100% of all people required to read bvllsh!t studies by Wintebrut can be excuse for thinking of suicide as an alternative.

    Film at 11.

    1. avatar Sam I Am says:

      Excellent Dilbert cartoon. Right on the money.

    2. avatar Ing says:

      So…do you read the WEA Pedagogy blog?

      I thought the linked article was interesting, and the author seemed to have his head screwed on straight, but after reading the swamp gas emanating from half the comments under it, I have serious doubts about the quality of that place. Of course you could say that about TTAG too, depending on the day and the topic…

  15. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

    To those of us who started with the RKBA movement in the late 80’s, Wintermute is a familiar name.

    What’s familiar here is that he hasn’t changed his perspective, nor his methodology.

  16. avatar FedUp says:

    Isn’t Wintemute the head of the state supported anti gun propaganda institute?

  17. avatar dwest says:

    I own a bandsaw (and a bunch of other equally dangerous shop tools) so that means I’m at higher risk of losing a thumb. But hey, I’ll take my chances, because creating stuff out of wood and metal is super cool. I also own a rake, that could potentially be left in the yard and some unlucky person might step in it and get whacked in the face. Just the pure slapstick potential justifies the rake, never mind its useless gathering up leaves 🙂

  18. avatar This BS is to fool the 45deg syndrome crowd to stupid & lazy to learn anything! says:

    The anti-gun quote: “Handgun owners are far more likely to commit suicide than non-owners”

    Then they stab themselves or use one of the other trillion methods!

    Suicide is not a gun issue!

    Bathtubs & Stairs kill way more people! Just ban them too!

    Cars & Motorcycles..just ban them too….

    Water can kill u….air can kill u… ban them too! Think COVID19 Water & Air or worse!

    That is how much sense their arguments make NONE! PURE Stupidity!

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