Harvard Study Shows What the Police Officer Knows

A recent Harvard School of Public Health study on guns and suicide validated what cops already knew about means, motive and opportunity in any kind of killing, where suicide or homicide.  But two things about the study are very important.

First, the evidence validates scientifically that a gun is such a potent means that on its own  it drives up suicide risk.  The study demonstrates statistically that guns are very scary variables.  Secondly, it stamps the all-important “H” on the knowledge.  As we know, having an “H” stamp on your argument is like having “Vermont” printed on the label of your food product.

Here’s an excerpt on the study from today’s Boston Globe.

“In the late 1950s in England and Wales, people began switching from heating their stoves with a gas containing carbon monoxide to one that didn’t. Over the next two decades, the suicide rate dropped, a decline attributed to the decline in death by carbon monoxide poisoning. Forty years later, the Sri Lankan government began to restrict the use of extremely toxic pesticides that had been commonly ingested to commit suicide. The suicide rate in that country dropped by half. In the United States, gun ownership dropped over a 22-year period ending in 2002, and the rate of suicides using guns declined, too.

When people talk about preventing suicide, the conversation usually centers on detecting and treating suicidal behavior, but a growing body of evidence points to a far simpler and more effective way to save thousands of lives: simply remove the means by which people commit suicide. In the United States, where half of all suicides are committed with a gun, that means firearms.”

The American Journal of Epidemiology published the study.  Here’s the abstract.

“Firearms and Suicide in the United States: Is Risk Independent of Underlying Suicidal Behavior?”
Matthew Miller, Catherine Barber, Richard A. White and Deborah Azrael.  Correspondence to Dr. Matthew Miller, Department of Health Policy and Management, Harvard School of Public Health, Room 305, Kresge Building, 677 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02115 (e-mail: mmiller@hsph.harvard.edu).


On an average day in the United States, more than 100 Americans die by suicide; half of these suicides involve the use of firearms. In this ecological study, we used linear regression techniques and recently available state-level measures of suicide attempt rates to assess whether, and if so, to what extent, the well-established relationship between household firearm ownership rates and suicide mortality persists after accounting for rates of underlying suicidal behavior. After controlling for state-level suicide attempt rates (2008–2009), higher rates of firearm ownership (assessed in 2004) were strongly associated with higher rates of overall suicide and firearm suicide, but not with nonfirearm suicide (2008–2009).

Furthermore, suicide attempt rates were not significantly related to gun ownership levels. These findings suggest that firearm ownership rates, independent of underlying rates of suicidal behavior, largely determine variations in suicide mortality across the 50 states. Our results support the hypothesis that firearms in the home impose suicide risk above and beyond the baseline risk and help explain why, year after year, several thousand more Americans die by suicide in states with higher than average household firearm ownership compared with states with lower than average firearm ownership.


About stephenomeara

My name is Jim Jordan. I have had the privilege of working with the Boston Police Department and hundreds more departments over my nearly 30-year career in police administration and city government. I am now teaching and consulting independently at www.sergeantsleadership.org. I have learned the best of what I know from the thousands of smart, dedicated and ethical police personnel and scholars who have guided me along the way. My address is named for the great Reform commissioner of the Boston Police at the turn of the 20th century. Commissioner O'Meara died just a short while before the Strike in 1919. He was replaced by a vicious puppet (of Gov. Coolidge) named Edwin U. Curtis. Had O'Meara lived events may have turned out quite differently.
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