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Understanding firearm suicide statistics and trends in Maryland

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If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide or self-harm, help is available. Call or text 988 to reach or view the confidential National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Resources from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

In Maryland, suicides are committed with a gun more often than any other method. Still, Maryland is one of only 10 states that had more murders than suicides with a gun in 2020, despite having some of the strictest gun laws in the country.

CNS analyzed data on gun suicides in Maryland and found five key findings:

There are more gun homicides than gun suicides

Maryland is one of only 10 states, along with Delaware, New Jersey and Washington, DC, to have more gun homicides than suicides in 2020 a study from Harvard University.

In Maryland, suicides accounted for just over a third of all gun-related deaths in 2021, compared to 54% nationwide. Homicides accounted for 66% of gun-related deaths in Maryland and 43% nationwide.

While gun suicide rates in Maryland have remained fairly constant over the past 40 years, gun homicide rates skyrocketed in the mid-1980s, began declining in 2007, and then fell to their lowest level of the decade in 2014, when 249 deaths fell along with it the passage of the Firearm Safety Act of 2013, which made it more difficult to access and purchase handguns in Maryland.

In 2015, the number of firearm homicides in the state rose to 445 and has continued to rise since then. 2015 was also the year of Freddie Gray's death in Baltimore, which has one of the highest murder rates in the country. Tense protests erupted in Baltimore for weeks after Gray's death in police custody, and riots and violence erupted after his funeral.

Although Baltimore has a high rate of gun homicides, the gun suicide rate is not significantly different than the rest of Maryland.

Suicide with firearms is the deadliest method

Suicide by firearm accounted for nearly half of all completed suicides in Maryland between 2001 and 2021, which is significantly more than the second most common method – hanging.

“The problem is that when people use a weapon in their attempt, it results in death. Only about five to six percent of suicide attempts are made with a gun…but because they are so deadly, [45%] of all suicide deaths are caused by firearms,” said Paul Nestadt, clinical director of the Johns Hopkins Anxiety Disorders Clinic, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and chair of the Maryland Suicide Fatality Review Committee.

Nationally, firearms were responsible for more than half of all successful suicides in the United States from 2001 to 2021. Suffocation/hanging was the second most common method.

Maryland's gun suicide rate is close to the national average

Maryland has no higher gun suicide rate than the nation as a whole. In fact, the national average rate of suicides committed with a firearm is slightly higher than in Maryland, although Maryland's rate has begun to rise in recent years. The firearm suicide rate is determined by dividing firearm suicides by the total number of suicides in a state or nation.

Although there is no clear explanation for this recent increase, it is important to note that part of the Firearms Safety Act of 2013 was repealed in November 2023, which could facilitate quick access to handguns.

Although it is still too early to assess the impact of this ruling, “knowing what we know about access to firearms and the role access to firearms and rapid access to firearms plays in suicide, I would assume that shortening or eliminating a waiting period is a good solution. “Because it is likely to have a negative impact, it probably increases the risk of suicide,” Nestad said.

Gun suicide rates are higher among white Maryland residents than among non-white residents

White people are more likely to commit suicide with a gun than non-white people in Maryland and the U.S. overall. According to the CDC, nearly twice as many white people committed suicide with firearms as black people in Maryland in 2020.

“One of the most important factors is access to guns…white people tend to own guns at a much higher rate than black Americans. They just have a higher rate of gun ownership,” Nestadt said.

In the United States, whites generally have a higher suicide rate than non-whites, with a rate of nearly 14 suicides per 100,000 from 2001 to 2020.

In 2020, whites had a suicide rate of 15 per 100,000, followed by American Indians/Alaska Natives at 14.5, according to the CDC.

Nestadt said firearm suicide rates are also higher in rural counties in Maryland, where access to and ownership of firearms is easier and more common.

Elderly people are the group most likely to commit suicide with a firearm

In 2021, Maryland's 75- to 79-year-olds had the highest firearm suicide rate at 13 per 100,000. Nestadt says that could be because “older men own guns…so gun ownership is unfortunately a big factor in this country.”

Those ages 20 to 24 are most likely to commit suicide with a gun in Maryland, with a rate of 8 gun suicides per 100,000. These statistics are age-adjusted to obtain consistent rates across age groups of different population sizes.

Additionally, women in all age groups are significantly less likely to commit suicide with a firearm. Nearly 80% of all suicides in the U.S. are men, which Nestadt said could also be due to access and ownership of guns.