Most adults do not realize that suicide is a more frequent cause of death than homicide, according to the first nationally representative study of public perceptions of firearm and non-firearm-related violent death in the United States.
“These findings are consistent with the well-established relationship between risk perception and the ease with which a pertinent categorical example can be summoned from memory, which in most persons is probably affected by the salience of homicides in media coverage,” lead author Erin R. Morgan, MS, and her coauthors wrote in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
The coauthors reviewed 3,811 responses to a question in the National Firearms Survey on the intent and means of violent death; participants were given 4 options – homicide with a gun, homicide with a weapon other than a gun, suicide with a gun, and suicide by a method other than a gun – and asked to rank them by frequency. A study of those responses found that only 13.5% of U.S. adults could correctly identify their state’s most frequent cause of violent death. Of the 1,880 respondents who shared their occupations, only 20% of health care professionals answered the question correctly.
The survey was conducted in April 2015; between 2014 and 2015, suicide was more common than homicide in all 50 states. Suicide by firearm was also more common than homicide by firearm in every state but Illinois, Maryland, and New Jersey. When reviewing firearm options only, the percentage of respondents who identified suicide as most frequent increased to 25.9%, according to Ms. Morgan of the School of Public Health and of Harborview Injury Prevention & Research Center at the University of Washington in Seattle, and her colleagues.
The coauthors noted that accurate identification was not impacted by the respondents’ firearm ownership status, but also that future research should evaluate if promoting awareness of suicide frequency and risk might “motivate behavioral change regarding firearm storage.”
“Our findings suggest that correcting misperceptions about the relative frequency of firearm-related violent deaths may make persons more cognizant of the actuarial risks to themselves and their family, thus creating new opportunities for prevention,” they wrote.
The study was funded by the Fund for a Safer Future and the Joyce Foundation. No conflicts of interest were reported.
SOURCE: Morgan E et al. Ann Intern Med. 2018 Oct 30. doi:10.7326/M18-1533.