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Licensing Laws Have Reduced Suicides Using Guns

Wednesday 22 February, 2006
www.chmeds.ac.nz

Tighter Licensing Laws Have Reduced Suicides Using Guns

Research by the Christchurch School of Medicine and Health Sciences, University of Otago, confirms that changes to legislation increasing the control of the licensing of firearms in 1992 have resulted in a significant reduction of suicides using guns.

Suicide researcher, Associate Professor Annette Beautrais, who heads the Canterbury Suicide Project at the School, carried out the research which has just been published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry. She is due to address the International Firearm Safety Seminar now being held in Christchurch on this issue.

Associate Professor Beautrais examined national suicide figures and found that after the Amendment to the Arms Act in 1992 the mean annual rate of firearm-related suicides dropped by 46% for the total population.

In the 15-24 age group the fall was even greater at 66%, while for adults 25 and over the drop in suicides using guns was 39%.

“We looked at the statistics for 8 years before the legislation and 10 years after, and the results are clear. Before the legislation there were almost 80 firearm suicides a year, but afterwards they dropped to 52 deaths. In fact the rates of suicide using guns dropped at a time in the early 1990’s, when suicides generally were going up.”

“This research clearly demonstrates that tighter gun laws in NZ have saved lives when it comes to suicide attempts, “ says Professor Beautrais.” It is interesting to note that there was strong local resistance to the tougher gun licensing laws at the time in NZ, and that in the United States the majority of suicides are still the result of firearms.

She says that the easy availability of firearms plays a significant role in the suicide of young people, who because of impulsive aggression or distress, may take their lives if a gun is readily available.

However she says there may have been some ‘substitution effect’ in the 1990’s, as total suicides increased, with people using other methods when the new guns laws made access to weapons more difficult. Associate Professor Beautrais also says it is difficult to transfer these results to other countries which have different legislation controlling firearms.

This latest research confirms that restricting access to the means of suicide should be viewed as an important adjunct to suicide prevention strategies that focus on improving the identification, treatment and management of the psychiatric disorders which are the key background drivers of suicidal behaviour.

This research was funded by the Health Research Council.

ENDS

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