Study examines use of firearms in incidents of homicide-suicide

Published on September 27, 2019

A recent study from researchers at the University of Iowa and Purdue University examined incidents of homicide-suicide from 2013 to 2016 to compare proportions of incidents that included a firearm to non-firearm incidents by incident, victim, and perpetrator characteristics.

The study, published in the August 2019 Journal of Behavioral Medicine, was authored by Laura Schwab Reese, assistant professor of public health at Purdue University College of Health and Human Sciences, and Corinne Peek-Asa, professor of occupational and environmental health at the University of Iowa College of Public Health.

The researchers accessed data for this analysis through a restricted access agreement with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for the National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS).

According to the data, firearm-related injuries were the most frequent cause of death for victims (85.6%) as well as perpetrators (89.5%). Women, Hispanic individuals, individuals with a current mental health issue, and individuals with recent depression symptoms had lower odds of using a firearm, as did perpetrators who killed both an intimate partner and other family member.

“With so much focus on mass shootings, we need to also include a focus on the high number of multiple-death homicide/suicide events that involve family violence,” Peek Asa says. “Understanding the circumstances of these events, such as ties with substance use, psychological health, and weapon use, can help us devise prevention strategies.”

The study concludes that despite these differences, the overwhelming majority of homicide-suicide deaths involved firearms, which supports the need for adequate, appropriate firearm control measures to prevent these tragedies.

“As we continue to seek ways to prevent firearm deaths in the United States, it may be important to consider how homicide-suicide deaths are similar and different from other firearm deaths and how novel or existing prevention strategies may need to be tailored to also prevent homicide-suicide deaths,” Schwab Reese says.