States with Lower Gun Ownership and Stronger Gun Laws Have Lowest Suicide Rates

For Release: Wednesday, September 8, 2021

New VPC Analysis Released During National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month in September

Washington, DC — States with lower rates of gun ownership and stronger gun violence prevention laws have the lowest overall suicide rates in the nation according to a new Violence Policy Center (VPC) analysis of 2019 data (the most recent year available) from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Conversely, states with the highest suicide rates have higher gun ownership rates and weaker gun violence prevention laws.

The tables below list the three states with the three lowest and highest overall suicide rates in 2019 and include for each state its overall suicide rate, gun suicide rate, total number of suicides and gun suicides, percentage of suicides that involved a gun, and household gun ownership rate. A similar table for all 50 states ranked by overall suicide rate is available at https://vpc.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/2019-State-Overall-Suicide-Rates-ranked-by-rate.pdf.

The state with the lowest overall suicide rate in 2019 was New Jersey (8.58 suicides per 100,000 residents) with a gun suicide rate of 1.95 gun suicides per 100,000 residents. New York ranked second lowest (overall suicide rate of 8.76 suicides per 100,000 residents) with a gun suicide rate of 2.34 gun suicides per 100,000 residents. Massachusetts ranked third lowest (overall suicide rate of 9.39 suicides per 100,000 residents) with a gun suicide rate of 2.06 gun suicides per 100,000 residents. In each of these three states guns were used in 27 percent or fewer of the suicides reported that year and all had a household gun ownership rate below 21 percent. Compared to the three states with the highest suicide rates, each of these states has stronger gun violence prevention laws.

The state with the highest overall suicide rate in the nation in 2019 was Wyoming (29.37 suicides per 100,000 residents), which also had the highest gun suicide rate (19.70 gun suicides per 100,000 residents). Alaska ranked second (28.71 suicides per 100,000 residents) and had the third highest gun suicide rate (15.99 gun suicides per 100,000 residents). Montana ranked third (27.04 suicides per 100,000 residents) and had the second highest gun suicide rate (16.09 gun suicides per 100,000 residents). In each of these three states guns were used in 56 percent or more of the suicides reported that year and all had a household gun ownership rate above 54 percent. Compared to the states with the lowest suicide rates, each of these states has lax gun violence prevention laws.

VPC Executive Director Josh Sugarmann states, “Suicide is the most common type of gun death in America and the use of a firearm is a key factor in whether a suicide attempt is completed or not. There are more suicides where there are more guns. Understanding this relationship can help inform effective suicide prevention strategies.”

As shown in the VPC’s Guns and Suicide fact sheet (https://vpc.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/suicide-factsheet-2021.pdf), in 2019, the national overall suicide rate was 14.47 per 100,000 and the gun suicide rate was 7.29 per 100,000. That year there were 47,511 suicides in the United States: 130 suicides per day; one suicide every 11.1 minutes. More than half (50.4 percent) of these were firearm suicides, which totaled 23,941 in 2019.

State suicide and gun suicide rates are calculated by dividing the number of relevant suicide deaths by the total state population and multiplying the result by 100,000 to obtain the rate per 100,000, which is the standard and accepted method for comparing fatal levels of gun violence.

The VPC defined states with “weaker” gun violence prevention laws as those that add little or nothing to federal law and have permissive laws governing the open or concealed carrying of firearms in public. States with “stronger” gun violence prevention laws were defined as those that add significant state regulation that is absent from federal law, such as restricting access to particularly hazardous and deadly types of firearms (for example, assault weapons), setting minimum safety standards for firearms and/or requiring a permit to purchase a firearm, and restricting the open and concealed carrying of firearms in public.

State gun ownership rates were obtained from the July 2019 American Journal of Preventative Medicine article by Aaron J. Kivisto, et al., “Firearm Ownership and Domestic Versus Nondomestic Homicide in the U.S.,” which is the most recent comprehensive published data available on state gun ownership.

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The Violence Policy Center is a national educational organization working to stop gun death and injury. Follow the VPC on Twitter and Facebook.

Media Contact:
Sally Martinelli
(202) 822-8200 x104
smartinelli@vpc.org