Year: 2019 Source: Annals of Internal Medicine. (2018). 169(10), 734-737. SIEC No: 20190626

Background: Persons tend to estimate the likelihood of events, such as the risk for homicide versus suicide, in proportion to the ease with which they can retrieve examples of these incidents from memory (1). Because the recency of personal experience and media coverage can influence this retrieval (1–3), misperceptions about the relative frequency of suicide versus homicide—the leading causes of intentionally inflicted (that is, violent) death from external causes (such as firearms)—may be common. In the United States, suicide is twice as common as homicide, and suicide by firearm is more common than homicide by firearm (4). However, no nationally representative study has assessed public perceptions of the relative frequency of these leading causes of violent death. This study addresses this subject. We hope that identifying the scope of actuarial misperceptions among the U.S. population in general and among those who own or live with firearm owners in particular might facilitate discussions about firearm ownership and storage.
Objective: To describe public misperceptions about the relative frequency of violent death by intent (homicide vs. suicide) and means (firearm vs. nonfirearm) at the national level.
Methods and Findings: We used data from the National Firearms Survey, a nationally representative Web-based survey of U.S. adults conducted by Growth for Knowledge in April 2015. Details are described elsewhere (5). A total of 3949 participants were presented with 4 options on the intent and means of violent death (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 order the frequency of these outcomes in their state in an average year (Supplement).