The debate over firearms safety and the effects of rising gun sales tends to revolve around the best way to keep guns out of the hands of criminals. But about 21,000 Californians committed suicide with a firearm between 2001 and 2014, almost equal to the number of firearm homicide victims.
From 2009 through 2014, the number of people who used a gun to kill themselves in California actually outpaced the number who used a gun to commit homicide. That's largely because the homicide rate (3.2 per 100,000 in 2014) has fallen, while the suicide rate has remained steady (4.1 per 100,000 in 2014).
The California counties with the highest gun sales per capita also tend to be the counties with the highest firearm suicide rates, according to a Sacramento Bee review of state and federal data. In the 15 counties with the highest gun suicide rates, the annual rate of firearm sales between 2001 and 2015 was about 37 per 1,000 residents. That's more than triple the median rate in the 15 counties with the lowest gun suicide rates.
But correlation does not always equal causation. Suicide rates are highest among older, white men. So are gun ownership rates. Those two facts can both be true, but not related, if other factors are at play.