Psychological Reports, 1990, 66, 923-930.
O Psychological Reports 1990
SUICIDE RATES, HANDGUN CONTROL LAWS, AND SOCIODEMOGRAPHIC VARIABLES ' MYRON BOOR AND JEFFREY H. BAIR Emporia Shte Universily Summary.-The association of state handgun control laws to state suicide rates was investigated while controlling for sex, age, percent black, percent metropolitan population, population density, and rates of population change, divorce, crime, and unemployment. Gun contml laws formed two statistically identifiable groups, (1) laws that place restrictions on the sellers of handguns and (2) laws that place restrictions on the buyers of handguns. A multiple regression analysis indicated that suicide rates were significantly lower in states with low divorce rates, low crime rates, and stringent fiiearm control laws, as those laws affect both the sellers and the buyers of handguns. The variables in this analysis accounted for 69% of the variance of suicide rates.
Several studies have reported associations between the availability of firearms and the rates of suicide. Boor (1981a) reported that increases in the rates of suicide in the United States between 1962 and 1975 paralleled increases in the availability of firearms. Boyd (1983) noted that the rates of suicide by firearms in the United States increased from 4.9 to 7.1 per 100,000 population between 1953 and 1978, while firearms were becoming more readily available, whereas the rates of suicide by other methods remained virtually unchanged during that time period. Markush and Bartolucci (1984) reported that in the mid-1970s the regions of the United States with the highest prevalence of guns had the highest suicide rates. Lester (1987b) reported that in 1970 the state suicide rates by guns were related positively to the availability of guns, as that availability was inferred from the rates of accidental deaths by guns, the percent of homicides by guns, and the strictness of state gun control laws. These relationships between suicide rates and the availability of firearms have prompted studies of the effects of handgun control laws on the rates of suicide. As noted above, Lester (1987b) reported that in 1970 the state suicide rates by guns were related to the strictness of state gun control laws. In an earlier study Lester and Murrell (1980) found that states with stricter handgun control laws had lower total suicide rates in 1959-1961 and also in 1969-1971. No attempts were made in these two studies to control for any demographic variables. However, in a recent study Lester (1987a) reported that the relationship of suicide rates to strictness of state handgun-control laws remained statistically significant when the effects of church attendance (which also were related significantly to suicide rates) were partialled out. 'Please address correspondence to Myron Boor, Department of Sociology, Box 22, Emporia State University, Emporia, Kansas 66801
M. BOOR & J. H. BAIR
In a more detailed study of the effects of state handgun-control laws on the rates of suicide, Lester and Murrell (1982) and Lester (1984) reported a factor analysis of the handgun control laws of the 48 continental states from information provided by Bakal (1968). In that factor analysis, Lester and Murrell (1982) found that handgun control laws formed three statistically identifiable factors, which they identified as Restrictions on the Seller of handguns (Factor I), Restrictions on the Buyer of handguns (Factor 11), and Restrictions on the Carrier of handguns (Factor 111). Lester and Murrell (1982) found that the rates of suicide by guns in 1960 and in 1970 were related significantly to scores on both Factor I and Factor 11. Thus, suicide rates by guns were significantly lower in states with more stringent handgun control laws, as those laws pertain to both the sellers and the buyers of handguns. No significant relationships were obtained between the rates of suicide by guns and scores on Factor 111. Lester and Murrell (1982) did not report the relationships of the scores on their three identified factors to total suicide rates. It is not known whether the lower rates of suicide by guns in states with stricter handgun-control laws produced lower total suicide rates or whether total suicide rates in those states were similar to those in other states because rates of suicide by other methods were higher. Furthermore, no efforts were made in Lester and Murrell's (1982) study to control for the demographic and social variables that often have been related to suicide rates, such as the distributions of sex and age in the states, the proportions of persons who are black, the proportions of persons residing in metropolitan areas, population density, and rates of population change (increase or decrease), divorce, crime, and unemployment (Boor, 1980, 1981b). I t has not been determined that handgun control laws are related to suicide rates to an extent that cannot be attributed to common relationships of these variables to other factors. Finally, the data pertaining to gun-control laws in Lester and Murrell's (1982) study were quite dated, having been based on information provided in 1968 by Bakal (1968). The present study investigated the association of state handgun-control laws as reported in 1987 to 1985 state suicide rates while controlling for the effects of demographic and social variables that often have been related to suicide rates. Those variables were sex and age distributions among the states, proportions of persons who are black, proportions of persons residing in metropolitan areas, population density, and rates of population change (increase or decrease), divorce, crime, and unemployment.
Data regarding the handgun-control laws of each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia were obtained from a compendium of state laws
SUICIDE AND GUN-CONTROL LAWS
governing handguns that was published in 1987 by the National Rifle Association (1987). For each state it was determined whether or not the following conditions prevailed: (a) was an application and waiting period required prior to purchasing a handgun, (b) was a record of handgun sales sent to the government, (c) was a license required to carry a handgun openly, (d) was a license required to carry a handgun conceded, (e) was a license or permit required to purchase a handgun, (f) was registration of the handgun required, and (g) was an ownership license or ID card required. The following sociodemographic data were obtained for each state and the District of Columbia from the 1988 Statistical Abstract of the United States (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1987): (a) the 1985 suicide rate per 100,000 population, (b) the percent of the population in 1980 who were male, (c) the percentage in 1986 who were in the 35- to 64-yr. age group (the age group who accounted for the largest number of suicides), (d) the percent of the population in 1985 who were black, (e) the percentage in 1985 who lived in metropolitan areas, (f) the number of persons per square mile (population density) in 1985, (g) the percent of population change (increase or decrease) between 1980 and 1985, (h) the divorce rate per 1,000 population in 1985, (i) the crime rate per 1,000 population in 1985, and (j) the percent of the population in 1985 who were unemployed.
RESULTS Point-biserial correlation coefficients were calculated between the 1985 state suicide rates and each of the seven requirements pertaining to handguns that are listed above. Six of these seven requirements were correlated negatively with suicide rates, as indicated in Table 1. However, the requirement of a license to carry a concealed handgun was not correlated with suicide rates (r = -.003). Handgun-control Attributes Phi coefficients were calculated among the six handgun-control laws that were related to suicide rates to assess the pattern of these laws among the states. Yates corrections were applied to these data given the small number of observations in some of the cells. These phi coefficients, presented in Table 1, indicate that states in which an application and waiting period are required prior to purchasing a handgun also tended significantly to require that records of handgun sales be sent to the government ( 4 = .43, p