"Though big, scary mass shootings get the most attention when it comes to gun violence, 60 percent of deaths caused by firearms are suicides. And another new study in this same issue of Health Affairs emphasizes that suicide, not homicide, is the major public health problem for mentally ill people with guns. In it, Swanson and his colleagues looked at 81,704 people getting public health services for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depressive disorder in two large Florida counties. They tracked these people’s death records, as well as whether they were barred from owning guns.
In that group, the rate of people who died by suicide was four times higher than that of the general population. The violent crime rate was just under two times higher. But consider that this is a group of people receiving government care, who “might have other risk factors for violence, including poverty and social disadvantage, unemployment, residential instability, substance use problems, history of violent victimization, exposure to neighborhood violence, or involvement with the criminal justice system,” the study reads. So you can’t reasonably attribute the higher violent crime rate in this group to mental illness alone.
“It’s a big public health opportunity to limit access to guns,” Swanson says. And it could make a big difference for suicide attempt survival rates. Among people who’ve survived a suicide attempt, more than 90 percent do not go on to kill themselves later. But guns are the most common method of suicide, and people who try to kill themselves with a gun usually succeed—85 percent of the time. “They don’t get that second chance,” Swanson says.
Overall, the study concluded, “[the results] would seem to suggest that suicide, not homicide, should be the crux of gun violence prevention efforts focused on people with serious mental illnesses in public systems of care.”