Trigger Warning: The Causal Impact of Gun Ownership on Suicide

40 Pages Posted: 20 Nov 2017 Last revised: 28 Oct 2018

See all articles by David Vitt

David Vitt

Farmingdale State College

Alexander McQuoid

United States Naval Academy - Department of Economics

Charles Moore

United States Naval Academy - Department of Economics

Stephen Sawyer

United States Naval Academy - Department of Economics

Date Written: May 3, 2018

Abstract

With a growing debate over tighter firearm regulations, we consider an important social consequence of increased firearm access: increased firearm suicides. Using data from the federal criminal background check system, we consider the impact of firearm ownership of firearm suicide rates. To deal with concerns of identification, we instrument for firearm background checks with state-year level Google search intensity for phrases that reflect fear of future gun shortages and learning about the constitutional rights of firearm owners. We find that an increase in firearm ownership has a sizable and statistically significant impact on firearm suicide rates. A 10% increase in firearm ownership increases firearm suicide rates by 3.1%, which is five times larger than OLS estimates. Furthermore, we find no effect of gun ownership on non-firearm suicide rates, suggesting our findings are not simply capturing a suicide method substitution effect. The results are consistent with a variety of validity and robustness tests. Our results make clear the link between firearm ownership and firearm suicide rates, both of which have increased dramatically over the last decade.

Keywords: Suicide, Mortality, Gun Ownership, Google Trends

JEL Classification: I18, I31, K4

Suggested Citation

Vitt, David and McQuoid, Alexander and Moore, Charles and Sawyer, Stephen, Trigger Warning: The Causal Impact of Gun Ownership on Suicide (May 3, 2018). Applied Economics, Vol. 50, No. 53, 2018. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3072386 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3072386

David Vitt (Contact Author)

Farmingdale State College ( email )

School of Busines
Farmingdale, NY 11735

Alexander McQuoid

United States Naval Academy - Department of Economics ( email )

589 McNair Road
Annapolis, MD 21402
United States

Charles Moore

United States Naval Academy - Department of Economics ( email )

589 McNair Road
Annapolis, MD 21402
United States

Stephen Sawyer

United States Naval Academy - Department of Economics ( email )

589 McNair Road
Annapolis, MD 21402
United States

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