Picture of person under a dark cloud

Guns trigger more than half of nation’s suicides:

Reducing access to firearms reduces rate of suicide

‘Firearms most lethal suicide method by far in the U.S.’

By Sandy and Lonnie Phillips
Founders of Survivors Empowered

A Reuters.com headline tells a grim tale of this nation’s firearm suicides: “Firearms most lethal suicide method by far in the U.S.”

A Rutgers Gun Violence Research report points out: “85-95% of all firearm suicide attempts result in death as compared to less than 5% of all other suicide attempts combined – and 70% of those who survive a suicide attempt never attempt again…firearm access may drive the decision to use a firearm in a suicide attempt, thereby lowering the odds of survival and a subsequently long and fulfilling life.”

A study cited in the Reuters article reinforces the lethality of firearms, pointing out, “Firearms are by far the most lethal suicide method, with nearly nine out of 10 attempts being fatal, a new study finds.”

A Harvard.edu report adds, “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 ten 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…Many suicide attempts are made with little planning during a short-term crisis period. If highly lethal means are made less available to impulsive attempters and they substitute less lethal means, or temporarily postpone their attempt, the odds are increased that they will survive.”

By the numbers: Firearm suicide totals are staggering
Per the CDC, “…suicide deaths further increased in 2022, rising from 48,183 deaths in 2021 to an estimated 49,449 deaths in 2022, an increase of approximately 2.6%.” Over two years, that’s an average of 48,816 total suicides.

Gunviolencearchive.org data citing CDC statistics shows 26,328 firearm suicides in 2021; and 27,038 in 2022 annually due to firearm suicides. Over two years, that’s an average of 26,683 firearm suicides, 54% of all suicides.

Firearm customers much more likely to become victims of firearm suicide
Research has long shown that firearm ownership is associated with an increase in suicide rates. In 2014, a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine clearly showed that a person with access to a firearm is three times more likely to die by suicide. No other product in the United States is so inherently lethal but has so few warnings of the increased risk of self-harm, unintentional injury, or risk to the community if stolen. Yet the firearm industry repeatedly opposes legislation including extreme risk protection orders that are shown to reduce suicide rates.

Arms dealers often market firearms as products used in self-defense, yet fail to disclose before, during, or after a firearm sale the increased risk of suicide for the firearm purchaser as well as the purchaser’s family or roommates.

Simple common sense conclusions
Some pro-shooting organizations assert that firearm suicide is a personal “choice,” but common sense presents a much different picture. 

Firearms are so lethal that even with a 100% substitution rate for suicide attempts (switching from firearms to an alternative means), the completed suicide rate would still decrease. (GVPedia)

Extreme Risk Protection Orders can be used to prevent suicides
Removing access to firearms is a key part of suicide prevention. Equally important is preventing a person in crisis from purchasing another firearm. Extreme risk protection orders provide a way for family and friends to prevent a tragedy by temporarily suspending a person’s ability to purchase a firearm. According to Giffords, 21 states already use extreme risk laws to temporarily disarm people who are at risk of self-harm during temporary periods of crisis.

Researchers found that one life was saved from suicide for every 10 firearm removals under Indiana’s extreme risk law; studies of Connecticut’s law similarly found that by temporarily removing weapons from 762 high-risk individuals over the study period, Connecticut’s extreme risk law had prevented up to 100 suicide fatalities. (This is in addition to lives saved from prevention of homicide).

Similarly, Connecticut’s and Indiana’s extreme risk laws have been shown to reduce firearm suicide rates in these states by 14% and 7.5%, respectively.

Even the simplest way to restrict access to guns in the household—safely locking up firearms and ammunition—would substantially lower the U.S. suicide rate, particularly among children and teens.

Safe firearm storage is:

  • Securing all non-smart firearms with a trigger lock or in a locked gun safe with the key only accessible to the firearm owner;
  • Using smart firearms with biomarkers or RFID to allow only the firearm owner or other trusted, designated people to access firearms;
  • Securing the firearm with the safety on in a holster on the firearm owner’s person. What part of safe firearm storage is objectionable, even to the most ardent gun rights supporters?

The National Rifle Association itself “supports storing firearms in a responsible manner.” (NRA ILA)

Of course, other—more complex—prevention measures are vitally important as well. But this shows how simple, common-sense acts can help.

Notes GVpedia.org, “Research has shown that, worldwide, the most effective way to prevent suicide is so-called means safety: making the tools and methods of suicide less accessible and less lethal. In the U.S., research has shown, time and again, that access to firearms increases the risk for suicide death, particularly when firearms are not stored safely.”

The Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions has identified evidence-based policies demonstrated to help reduce gun violence including: 

  • Implementing permit-to-purchase laws, also known as gun purchaser licensing; 
  • Using Domestic Violence Protection Orders and Extreme Risk Protection Orders—sometimes called “red flag” laws—to temporarily remove firearms from individuals determined to be at elevated risk for violence;
  • Investing in community violence intervention programs; 
  • Adopting child access prevention laws mandating safe firearm storage in households with children and/or teens; 
  • Enacting stronger concealed carry permitting laws, and repealing “stand-your-ground” laws. 

Stop the rhetoric and start saving lives, period.

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