When asked whether homicide or suicide by firearm is more common, most Americans don’t know the correct answer. Interestingly, many healthcare professionals are just as likely to get it wrong.

A new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that public perceptions of gun violence are significantly inaccurate. Although respondents to the National Firearms Survey believed homicides were the leading cause of violent death by firearm, in reality, suicides occur at twice the rate.

“I think I expected people to have this misperception, but I didn’t realize just how widespread the misperception was,” said Erin Morgan, doctoral student at the University of Washington and one of the lead researchers for the study, “Or that health care professionals were just as susceptible to these misperceptions as the general public.”

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The rate of suicide was higher than homicide in every state in the United States from 2014 to 2015, and suicide by firearm was the leading cause of violent death in more than half of states.

By understanding these misconceptions, Ms Morgan hopes that communication around suicide becomes more commonplace and that individuals will start taking steps to protect themselves and their families from this risk. Healthcare professionals can help facilitate these conversations.

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“I think the more clinicians learn about lethal means counseling for at-risk patients, the more this will be at the forefront of their minds,” said Ms Morgan. “Clinicians can be one line of defense by asking the question.”


Morgan ER, Rowhani-Rahbar A, Azrael D, Miller M. Public perceptions of firearm- and non-firearm-related violent death in the United States: a national study [published online October 30, 2018]. Ann Intern Med. doi:10/7326/M18-1533