Johanna Drumm Birckmayer
Adjunct Professor, Department of Health Behavior, UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health
Dissertation Title: "The Role of Alcohol and Firearms in Youth Suicide and Homicide in the United States"
Homicide and suicide are, respectively, the second and third leading cause of death for young Americans. The following three papers address two risk factors for suicide and homicide, alcohol and gun availability. Two studies examine the association between an alcohol policy designed to reduce youth access to alcohol -- minimum legal drinking ages -- and youth suicide and homicide. The third paper explores the relationship between suicide rates and levels of household gun ownership by age of the victim. Since 1970, numerous state legislatures have enacted changes in the legal drinking age creating a natural experiment to test the effects of these law changes. Available data suggest that MLDAs affect the quantity of alcohol, especially beer, consumed by youth. The first two studies in this dissertation use pooled cross sectional time series mortality data from the 48 contiguous states from 1970 to 1990 to examine the association between varying MLDAs and youth suicide and homicide. In the first paper, a significant association is identified between the minimum legal drinking age and youth suicide. The analysis suggests that the suicide rate of 18 to 20 year olds living in states with an 18 year old MLDA was 8% higher than the suicide rate among 18 to 20 year olds in states with a 21 year old drinking age. In the second paper, no association is found between the MLDA and homicide rates. The third paper explores the hypothesis that the availability of firearms may have a differential effect on suicide rates, depending on the age of the potential victim. Suicide rates and levels of household gun ownership are analyzed in the nine census regions for the years 1979 to 1994. Levels of gun ownership are highly correlated with suicide rates among 15 to 24 year olds and 45 to 84 year olds, but not among 25 to 44 year olds.