A recent study out of the University of California, Riverside has discovered that there may be link between suicide, gun ownership and political conservatism.
Published in the February issue of Social Psychiatry & Psychiatric Epidemiology, the study found that states with high levels of firearm availability and a proclivity toward political conservatism tended toward higher rates of suicide.
However, church attendance, which is sometimes correlated to political conservatism, was shown to depress suicide rates.
The state with the highest suicide rate was Alaska, which is second only to Montana in firearm ownership. Montana, for its part, had the third highest suicide rate in the nation. Other states with high rates of conservatism, suicide and gun ownership include Wyoming, Idaho, Alabama and West Virginia.
The percentage of gun suicides were higher in the South and West than in the Northeast or Midwest.
The study measured "firearm availability" by calculating the average number of firearms per household in a given state and traced political conservatism based on the percentage of that state's voters who cast a ballot for Republican George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential election.
"Persons living in states or localities with high suicide rates may have higher exposure to definitions favorable to suicide acceptance, and this in turn may increase their odds of committing suicide," wrote Augustine J. Kposowa, who authored the study, and has researched the causes of suicide for two decades. "Prevailing social, economic and even political conditions in a state may further affect individual suicidal behavior by maintaining an environment in which people’s aspirations are thwarted and dreams of a better tomorrow are deferred."
Other factors affecting suicide rates are marital status (single people have lower rates than those who are married, although divorcees are significantly higher than either of those two other groups), race (Whites and Hispanics are more likely kill themselves than African Americans or Asians) and gender (men are not only more likely to commit suicide than women, but are also more likely to use a gun).
According to the Center for Disease Control, suicide is the eleventh leading cause of death in the United States--with one death occurring every 15 minutes. Even so, the overall suicide rates in the United States are not inconsistent with what is found in other developed Western countries.
Bemoaning the outsize power of the pro-gun lobby, Kposowa argued in favor of tighter gun control legislation, but admitted that meaningful reform appeared out of reach. "Even modest efforts to reform gun laws are typically met with vehement opposition," he wrote in the study. "There are also millions of Americans who continue to believe that keeping a gun at home protects them against intruders, even though research shows that when a gun is used in the home, it is often against household members in the commission of homicides or suicides."
While a number of academic studies have looked at the relationship between gun ownership and suicide in the United States, this one is the first to draw from a national dataset of death certificates from all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
This study isn't the first to posit a link between conservative politics and a heightened suicide rate. A pair of studies, released a little over a decade ago, found that suicides in Australia and Britain tended to increase when conservative governments were in power and shrink under liberal regimes.