More Access to Guns, Higher Suicide Rates

September is National Suicide Prevention Month. Of the more than 33,000 people who died from gun violence in 2014, suicide accounted for 64 percent — or two-thirds of all deaths.

Firearms suicides are lethal 85 to 91 percent of the time, making it the most deadly method, while other forms of suicide are lethal 3 percent of the time.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2013 suicides comprised the largest number of U.S. gun deaths with 21,175, compared with 11,028 firearm homicides. Studies have shown that more guns per capita in a state result in more firearm suicides.

The suicide rate among men is four times that of women and white men account for around 70 percent of all suicides.

Researchers at John Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research published a study in the October, 2015 issue of “Preventive Medicine.” It found a 15.4 percent reduction of gun suicides in Connecticut after the passage of a law requiring individuals to obtain a permit or license to purchase a handgun after passing a background check. Similarly, Missouri’s repeal of its handgun purchaser licensing law was associated with a 16.1 percent increase in firearm suicide rates.

According to lead author Cassandra Crifasi, “although these laws were not designed to reduce suicides, many of the risk factors that disqualify someone from legal gun ownership-domestic violence, history of committing violent crimes, substance abuse, severe mental illness and adolescence-are also risk factors for suicide.”

In a study reported in “The American Journal of Public Health,” researchers gathered data on the presence or absence of four specific firearm laws in each state which included: waiting periods for gun purchases during background checks, handgun locks, and restrictions on the open carrying of handguns. Next they collected the data on gun suicide rates in each state. After controlling for population density, race and ethnicity, education, poverty and age, they found that each of the four laws was associated with a lower rate of suicide by gun, as well as a lower overall rate of suicide.

In states with waiting periods, the longer the waiting period the lower the gun suicide rate. Compared with states without the laws, background checks were associated with a 53 percent lower gun suicide rates, gun locks with a 68 percent lower rate, and restrictions on open carrying a 42 percent lower rate. The lead author of the study, Professor Michael D. Anestis of the University of Southern Mississippi, noted, “When you make a highly lethal method of suicide harder to access, you are going to lower the suicide rate. We need to emphasize evidence-based gun safety among gun owners.”

The Injury Control Research Center at the Harvard School of Public Health has been researching the connection between gun ownership and suicide for more than 20 years. Highlights of their research include:

  • Firearms are the most lethal and most common method of suicide in the U.S. More people who die by suicide use a gun than all other methods combined.
  • Suicide attempts with a firearm are almost always fatal, while those with other methods are less likely to kill. Nine out of 10 people who survive a suicide attempt do not go on to die by suicide later.
  • Every U.S. study that has examined the relationship has found that access to firearms is a risk factor for suicides.
  • A key finding is the affirmation that limiting access to handguns makes it less likely someone will succeed in killing themselves.

The Harvard project lays out the argument that ready access to a firearm increases the likelihood of suicide for a variety of reasons, including the speed and efficiency of a shooting suicide versus another act in which the person can change their mind or seek help before dying.

Data from the CDC and other reputable sources illustrates that firearm suicides are a largely ignored portion of the overall issue of gun violence in the United States.

National Suicide Prevention Month is an appropriate time to shine a light on this growing problem in our country, and hopefully save the precious lives of our family members and friends.

Gail Lehmann is a resident of Ridgefield.