Tuesday, August 3 2004

If it saves twenty-five lives? Or is it fifteen? Or maybe none?

Okay, this story claims, without providing any of the details, that “safe gun storage” laws cut the teen suicide rates since their adoption in 1989. That is, the news report claims this, while the research paper (published in JAMA) simply says they may have cut suicide rates.

But by how much? First, they mention 300 less suicides between 1989 and 2001 for the 14-17 age group, and then they segue into a discussion of the number of suicides in the 14-20 age group. Sloppy reading on the reporter’s part, or is this a reflection of the actual research? And where are the rates that are mentioned in the headline? All I see are raw numbers.

Looking for real data, I found that the with-gun suicide rate for teens age 14-19 (and for other groups) has been declining for a while, but it peaked in 1994, five years after the “safe storage” laws in question. Interestingly enough, suffocation seems to be taking up the slack, although it’s not enough to stop the overall decline. It is enough to possibly account for the “prevented” with-gun suicides…