Owning a handgun increases a person's risk of firearm-related suicide more than owning a shotgun, a new study finds.
Researchers surveyed surviving loved ones of 121 gun owners who had died by suicide, including 93 who died by a firearm and 28 by other means.
The survey respondents were asked about the types and numbers of firearms the person who died had owned.
According to the findings, 77% of those who died using a firearm and 61% of those who died by another method owned a handgun, the survey found. Nearly 90% of people who only owned handguns used a firearm in their suicide death, compared to about 82% of those who only owned shotguns.
The study, published online Feb. 11 in the journal Archives of Suicide Research, also found the more firearms a person owned, the less likely they were to use one to take their own life.
The finding surprised study author Michael Anestis. He is executive director of the New Jersey Gun Violence Research Center at Rutgers University, in West Piscataway.
"Although such stockpiling may increase the odds of other problematic outcomes, it appears from our results that the risk for firearm suicide may actually be highest among those who own only one or a small number of firearms," Anestis said in a university news release.
Suicide deaths have increased 33% in the United States in the past 18 years, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In an attempt to reduce suicides, researchers are trying to identify factors that affect whether a person uses a firearm or other methods to take their own life, Anestis noted.
"It is clear that firearm access increases risk of suicide death overall, but little is known about what differentiates firearm owners who die by suicide using a firearm from those who choose another method despite having firearm access," he explained.
Shotguns, which tend to be used mainly for recreational purposes like hunting, are often stored in hunting lodges or with locking devices, Anestis said. That makes them less accessible than handguns, which are often bought for protection and may be stored loaded and easily accessible.
"It also may simply be that any firearm in the home bestows risk of use as a suicide method, but that when multiple types of firearms are owned, an individual is likely to default to handguns due to logistical issues or ease of access," he suggested.
The findings might help improve knowledge about which people at risk for suicide are most likely to use firearms, which could lead to more effective interventions, Anestis added.