Suicide attempt trends leading up to and following gun lock changes in the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act

Published date08 April 2019
Date08 April 2019
AuthorMichael D. Anestis,Samantha E. Daruwala,Neil Carey
Subject MatterHealth & social care,Criminology & forensic psychology,Sociology,Gender studies,Gender violence,Social conflicts,War/peace
Suicide attempt trends leading up to and
following gun lock changes in the 2013
National Defense Authorization Act
Michael D. Anestis, Samantha E. Daruwala and Neil Carey
Purpose Firearms accountfor the majority of suicide deathsin the US military and general population. The
percentage of suicides resulting from firearms is higher in the military, however, and as such, the ratio of
non-lethal to lethal suicide attempts is lower in the military thanin the general population. In 2013, Congress
passed the NationalDefense Authorization Act, which facilitated a Department of Defense (DoD) shift toward
allowingcommanding officersand clinicians to inquireabout personal firearmswith service members perceived
as being atrisk and also began giving free cablelocks to firearm-owningmilitary personnel. The purposeof this
paperis to provide a preliminary understandingof the effectivenessof this change, the authors examinedtrends
in firearm suicideattempts within the US military and general population from 2010to 2015.
Design/methodology/approach Data on non-lethal and lethal suicide attempts overall and within specific
methods were extracted from the Department of Defense Suicide Event Report and the Centers for Disease
Control and Preventions Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (20112015).
Findings Contrary to expectations, firearms were not utilized in a smaller proportion of suicide attempts
within the military post-law change. Consistent with expectations, however, the ratio of non-lethal to lethal
suicide attempts increased, particularly after the change in law, with the ratio in the military converging
somewhat with that of the general population.
Originality/value Overall, results were mixed, with only limited and tangential evidence that the change in
law has proven effective. More precise data collection will be required in order to fully evaluate such laws.
Keywords Suicide, Firearms, Military
Paper type Research paper
Suicide is a major public health concern in the US general and military populations. Suicide has
been the tenth leading cause of death among the general population for several years (CDC,
2017) and became the leading cause of death in active duty military personnel in 2012,
surpassing accident and combat-related deaths (AFHSC, 2014). It is important to note,
however, that the majority of individuals who attempt suicide ultimately do not die. It is estimated
that for every suicide death in 2016, there were 25 suicide attempts (Drapeau and McIntosh,
2017). The high ratio of non-lethal to lethal suicidal behavior may be a result of access to lethal
means. Firearms account for a relatively small percentage of suicide attempts, but their higher
lethality makes firearms the most common means by which people die by suicide. In fact, at least
half of the suicide deaths in the USA since 1999 have been caused by firearms (CDC, 2017).
Research has shown that owning a firearm, which is one of the most lethal means of suicide
(Miller et al., 2004; Vyrostek et al., 2004), is associated with death by suicide even when
controlling for a broad range of possible confounds such as mental illness, suicidal thoughts,
demographics and religiosity (see Anestis and Houtsma, 2017 for a review). Furthermore, this
risk increases when firearms are stored unsafely (Anestis et al., 2017; Brent, 2001). Access to
and familiarity with lethal means, particularly firearms, could increase the likelihood that an
individual will die when engaging in suicidal behavior.
The high ratio of non- lethal to lethal suicida l behavior may also be influ enced by capability for
suicide, a component of the Interpersonal Psychological Theory of Suicide (Joiner, 2005) and
Received 13 November 2018
Revised 20 December 2018
Accepted 20 December 2018
The authors would like to thank Dr
Adam Walsh for his contributions
to the development of this project
and his support for our efforts to
disseminate the results. This
project was funded in part by the
Defense Suicide Prevention Office
This paper forms part of a special
section Novel firearms-related
research and scholarship.
Michael D. Anestis and
Samantha E. Daruwala are
both based at Department of
Psychology, University of
Southern Mississippi,
Hattiesburg, Mississippi, USA.
Neil Carey is based at Center
for Naval Analyses, Alexandria,
Virginia, USA.
VOL. 11 NO. 2 2019, pp.100-108, © Emerald Publishing Limited, ISSN 1759-6599 DOI 10.1108/JACPR-11-2018-0389

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