Get access

Firearm Background Checks and Suicide


  • This article received helpful comments from Olivier Deschenes and improved as a result of suggestions by an editor of this Journal, J.-S. Pischke, as well as two anonymous referees. The article is dedicated to the memory of Philip Babcock. He was always there to provide me support and was a great friend.

Corresponding author: Matthew Lang, Department of Economics, Xavier University, Cincinnati, OH 45207, USA. Email:


A popular proxy for gun ownership is the fraction of suicides from firearms. This has made identifying the causal effect of guns on suicide difficult. In this article, firearm background checks are used as a proxy for changes in gun ownership rates, allowing the effect of guns on suicide to be identified. The results from panel data regressions show that increases in firearm background checks rates are associated with increases in firearm suicide rates. Overall suicide is positively, but insignificantly, related to background checks. To alleviate endogeneity that comes from suicidal individuals purchasing a gun to commit suicide, youth suicide is analysed and yields similar, but noisier results.