While it's not clear why gun sales are up this year on Long Island, speculation includes fear of a rise in crime fueled by the bad economy. But if people are buying guns to protect themselves in their homes, the track record on gun-related suicides and homicides should provide reason for pause. Guns can be useful for home defense. But a gun at home increases the risk of suicide two- to 10-fold, depending on a person's age, according to the New England Journal of Medicine. It also triples the risk of homicide in the home, most of the cases of which are legally unjustified, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. The upswing in gun sales was reported to Newsday by Long Island gun dealers and by police, who said applications for pistol permits in 2009 are on track to top last year's total by 50 percent. Analysts speculated that in addition to the fear of crime, the prospect of stricter gun laws, due to the election of President Barack Obama, also may be driving the increase. And police noted a rise in retirements among law enforcement officers who then seek pistol permits. Guns are used in more than half of all suicides - an average of 46 a day nationally in 2005. And ready availability is key, since suicide is often impulsive, a reaction to a stressful situation such as the breakup of a romance or loss of a job. Guns may make some people feel safer. But it's often a tragically false sense of security. hN