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Suicides higher in gun states, prof says

People who live in states with high gun-ownership rates are more likely to commit suicide, while those who belong to a church or other religious institution are less likely to kill themselves, a new study has found.

University of California Riverside sociology professor Augustine Kposowa, who has researched suicide and its causes for two decades, said greater access to guns leads to a higher possibility of death from suicide. Fifty-one percent of suicides are by firearms.

People who try to kill themselves with guns succeed more often than those who attempt suicide by the other leading method, poisoning, which includes overdoses of pills, Kposowa said. Many people who overdose are saved by paramedics, doctors and nurses.

The study comes as Congress considers legislation that would mandate background checks for all gun transactions.

Kposowa said that, over time, background checks would likely reduce the number of suicides. People who now can obtain guns – such as some mentally ill people and convicted criminals – would no longer be able to do so, he said.

The National Rifle Association, which opposes increased background checks, did not respond to requests for comment.

According to Kposowa’s findings, states that voted for Republican George W. Bush in 2000 in the presidential election over Democrat Al Gore had higher suicide rates. Kposowa said that may be because those states tend to have fewer regulations, such as those restricting firearms.

Kposowa analyzed data from nearly 132,000 suicides that occurred between 2000 and 2004.

The study was published recently in the journal Social Psychiatry & Psychiatric Epidemiology.

Some of the states with high suicide rates also have high religious-adherence rates. But when Kposowa looked only at religious belonging – and not other factors, such as gun ownership – he found that membership in a religious institution reduced the risk of suicide.

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