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Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Eugene Volokh doesn’t understand suicide (PAS, Part II)

In his blog yesterday, Volokh wrote:

“[I]f you really want to commit suicide (and there’s good reason to think that people who use a gun to try to commit suicide — as opposed to, say, pills — really do want to commit suicide) but can’t get a gun, it’s not hard to find alternate reliable means of killing yourself.”

First, few people “really want to commit suicide”---in the sense of having a strong, fixed desire to die.  Most suicide attempters deliberate for mere minutes or hours.  And the vast majority of survivors go on to die of something other than suicide.  Presumably, Volokh would agree that people who jump from the Golden Gate Bridge also, in his terms, “really want to commit suicide” (given the lethality of this method), but one study of attempt survivors found that after a 26-year follow-up period 90% died of natural causes or were still alive.  Suicide is generally impulsive.  If someone has access to a gun, the impulse is almost always fatal.  Even a short delay finding an “alternative reliable means” can make all the difference.

Volokh supports his quoted assertion with a 2004 report.  Fair enough, but if he had updated his research, he might have discovered my co-authored article examining the impact of waiting periods and other purchase delays on suicide.  Using state-level panel data for over two decades and controlling for a host of other variables, we find that purchase delays are associated with a significant reduction gun suicide with no evidence of substitution to non-gun suicide.  And this is not just an isolated study.  It has been well-established for many years that restricting access to lethal means is an effective way to reduce suicide (2006 JAMA review).


Posted by Fredrick Vars on October 7, 2015 at 10:40 AM | Permalink


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