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Increased Risk of Suicide Among Women Living with Handgun Owners

Study Examined "Secondhand" Exposure to Handguns Among 9.5 Million Californians Over 12 Years

Women living with handgun owners are nearly 50 percent more likely to die by suicide compared to women living in gun-free homes, according to new research led by scientists at Northeastern and Stanford Universities.

The study, published in JAMA Psychiatry on April 27, is among the largest to explore the risks of having a gun in the home. Lead author Matthew Miller, professor of epidemiology at Northeastern University, said the study aimed to address the question: "What happens to a woman's suicide risk when someone she lives with brings a handgun into their gun-free home for the first time. The answer: her chances of dying by suicide increases by more than 40 percent.”

Co-author David Studdert, professor of health policy in the Stanford University School of Medicine’s Department of Health Policy, said despite widespread perception that a gun in the home makes inhabitants safer, rigorous studies have shown people who living in homes with guns are at higher risk of violent deaths. “But homes don’t own guns; people do. And sorting out exactly who in these homes faces elevated risks and estimating the size of those risks is vitally important.”

The study followed 9.5 million adult women in California from 2004 to 2016. The women did not own guns and began the study living with one or more adults in a handgun-free home. Over 12 years, more than 330,000 women had a cohabitant become a lawful gun owner.

An earlier study by the research team found that women who personally own handguns were seven times more likely to die by suicide than women who don’t own handguns.

Study co-author Yifan Zhang, research scholar in the department of health policy at Stanford, said they were interested in whether gun suicides increased, and if data showed a corresponding decrease in suicide by other means. But the findings showed little substitution by other means “so the overall suicide risk increases substantially.”

Other co-authors of the study were Erin E. Holsinger, Lea Prince, Sonja Swanson, and Garen J. Wintemute.

The study was funded by the National Collaborative on Gun Violence Research and the Joyce Foundation. Stanford Law School, and the Stanford University School of Medicine supported assembly of the cohort used in the study.

This paper follows research released earlier this month that showed adults who lived with handgun owners were more likely to die by homicide.

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