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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University August 16, 2004 | Vol. 33 No. 42
Study Finds Gun Laws Requiring Safe Storage Prevent Some Youth Suicides

By Tim Parsons
School of Public Health

A new study conducted by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health provides evidence that the child access prevention laws for firearms enacted by 18 U.S. states significantly reduced suicide rates among young people 14 to 17 years old. CAP laws require gun owners to store their guns so as to prevent unsupervised access by children. The study is published in the Aug. 4 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The study used data from 1976-2001 to examine the association between federal and state firearm laws and suicide rates among youth. State CAP laws were associated with an 8.3 percent reduction in youth suicide rates for 14- to 17-year-olds. As would be expected if these laws in fact reduce youth access to guns, CAP laws reduced suicides with firearms but had no effect on nonfirearm suicides.

The study's authors estimate that CAP laws prevented more than 300 youth suicides during the years that the laws were enacted (1989-2001), saving 35 lives in 2001 alone. In 2001, suicide was the third leading cause of death among 10- to 19-year-olds.

"Our findings demonstrate that many youth suicides are preventable by making firearms — an especially lethal means of self-harm — less accessible to adolescents," said Daniel Webster, lead author of the study and co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research at the Bloomberg School.

The study also examined two other categories of youth-focused laws — minimum purchase age and minimum possession age laws for firearms — and did not find an association between these laws and significant reductions in youth suicide. "This finding should not be particularly surprising, since other research indicates that most youth firearm suicides involve guns already owned by the victims' parents," according to Jon Vernick, co-author of the study and co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research. The study did not examine the effects of these laws on youth homicides or accidental shootings.

The study was funded in part by a grant from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. Authors, in addition to Webster and Vernick, are April M. Zeoli and Jennifer A. Manganello, both of Johns Hopkins.


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