Suicide, firearms and the case for waiting periods

Half of all suicides in the U.S. are by firearm. Nearly two-thirds of all firearms-arms related deaths in the U.S. are suicides Yet, only four states and the District of Columbia require any kind of waiting period for the purchase a gun.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the 12th leading cause of death in the U.S. In 2020, 45,979 Americans died by suicide, and an estimated 1.20M attempted suicide.

“No one takes their life for a single reason,” the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) notes. “We all have mental health, just as we all have physical health, and conditions such as depression, anxiety and substance use problems – especially when unaddressed – increase the risk of suicide. That risk is greater when a firearm is present and accessible in the home.

“Temporarily removing lethal means from someone in suicidal crisis greatly reduces the likelihood of that person dying by suicide, because it gives at-risk individuals something they crucially need: time.

“Research shows that most people in suicidal crisis who don’t have easy access to a lethal suicide method will not simply find another way to kill themselves. Removing access to firearms and other lethal means allows time for both the moment of intense suicidal crisis to pass, and for someone to intervene with potentially lifesaving mental health support and resources.”

Read the AFSP’s full report An introduction to firearms and suicide prevention.


Under current federal law, there is no waiting period requirement for the purchase of guns. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) notes, “waiting period laws give law enforcement additional time to perform an accurate background check and create a ‘cooling off’ period to prevent acts of violence or suicide attempts.”

According to AAP:

  • Death from firearms remains the most lethal form of suicide with an approximate 90 percent mortality rate.
  • According to several studies, suicide survivors contemplated their actions in a very brief window of time. Waiting periods could help address this period of impulsive behaviors.
  • Waiting period laws have proven to lower the rates of suicide. States with such laws had 51 percent fewer firearm suicides than states without. Another study showed that these states also experienced a 17 percent decrease in gun homicides. Over 900 firearm homicides could be prevented each year if every state implemented waiting periods.
  • Over 70 percent of Americans without a firearm in the home support longer waiting periods for gun purchases.

Read AAPs full report Waiting Periods for Firearms Purchases.

f you are having thoughts of suicide, text the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 or go to for a list of additional resources.

You might be interested in other articles in News and Research.

Published by Tim Rowden

The Grief Project is dedicated to sharing the stories of suicide loss survivors as well as information and research on suicide, mental health, advocacy and prevention. I’m a suicide loss survivor, husband, father, writer and journalist, with 33 years experience as a reporter and editor. I believe sharing our stories can help help others who are struggling, whether they are loss survivors or struggling with depression or other mental health issues. We honor them and honor our loved ones by sharing our stories.

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