Trigger Warning: The Causal Impact of Gun Ownership on Suicide
40 Pages Posted: 20 Nov 2017 Last revised: 28 Oct 2018
Date Written: May 3, 2018
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: Suggested Citation