Suicide and Gun Violence

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Nearly two thirds of all gun deaths in this country are self-inflicted.1 In other words, of the almost 100 gun deaths a day, 66 are suicides. Let that sink in for a second.

In this world of lockdown orders and COVID-19, many of us are feeling anxious, stressed, and unsure about our futures and even the future of our country. Within our communities, every one of us knows at least one Marylander who is living alone and completely isolated. Social distancing is a key and important way to battle this disease but it also has huge emotional consequences for people who cannot adequately access mental health needs. Calls to hotline crisis numbers have skyrocketed in the last weeks.

Now take a moment to consider our economy. Last week, U.S. jobless claims soared to 6.6 million people. We know too many lives have already been taken by COVID-19 and we need to prepare ourselves for the collateral damage. This economic crisis will lead to personal crises that will lead to suicides. Researchers have hypothesized that about 4,750 suicides can be directly attributed to the economic crisis from 2007-2010 in the United States.2 Add to this, that March of 2020 saw the second highest spike of gun sales in the U.S. ever at 1.9 million guns sold and we have the recipe for a truly catastrophic blow to people struggling at this time.

The Facts Behind Suicides and Gun Violence

When I share the suicide by gun statistic with people, I am often confronted with the retort, “Well, they’ll find some other way to kill themselves.” The evidence does not support this assertion. We know through research that all forms of gun violence are preventable. The vast majority of people who attempt suicide do so impulsively, often in a moment of despair. Seventy-one percent of people attempt suicide within one hour of making the decision, 48% attempt within ten minutes.3 Many people who attempt suicide without a gun, survive; and over 90% of survivors of suicide go on to live healthy and productive lives.4 However, when people attempt suicide with a gun, the likelihood that they will survive is greatly reduced. Guns are used in only five percent of suicide attempts but, because of their lethality,5 suicide attempts with guns represent over half of the deaths by suicide.6 Fortunately, we have mechanisms in Maryland that have proven effective at preventing suicide.

What Can You Do if You Think Someone in Your Life is a Risk to Themselves?

Families should always practice safe storage, but never is this more important than when a youth or member of your household is struggling emotionally. Unattended firearms should be kept unloaded and locked, with ammunition stored separately. A recent study demonstrated that safe storage significantly reduces unintentional deaths and suicides.7

Courts and law enforcement in Maryland remain operational and can help facilitate and ensure compliance with Extreme Risk Protective Orders (ERPO). An ERPO provides an individual with law enforcement assistance to legally remove firearms from people who are at the most significant and imminent risk of suicide. Studies have proven that ERPOs are significant factors in reducing suicides.8

Ask for help. If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741. These services operate 24/7 and provide free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress.

We as a society have a responsibility to ensure all people have the access to health care and the protection from guns to help prevent suicide.

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) Fatal Injury Reports. A yearly average was developed using five years of most recent available data: 2013 to 2017.
  2. A. Reeves, D. Stuckler, “Increase in the suicides rates in US during economic recession.” The Lancet. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/issue/vol380no9856/PIIS0140-6736(12)X6049-5.
  3. T. R. Simon, et al., “Characteristics of Impulsive Suicide Attempts and Attempters,” Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior 32 no. 1 (Suppl.) (2001): 49–59; Catherine W. Barber and Matthew J. Miller,
    “Reducing a Suicidal Person’s Access to Lethal Means of Suicide: A Research Agenda,” American Journal
    of Preventive Medicine 47, no. 3 (2014): S264–S272. See also, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health,
    Means Matter, “Impulsivity and Crises,” http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/means-matter/means-matter/
    impulsivity.
  4. There are 25 suicide attempts for every suicide death in the US (American Association of Suicidology,
    “USA SUICIDE: 2012 OFFICIAL FINAL DATA,” October 18, 2014, http://www.suicidology.org/Portals/14/
    docs/Resources/FactSheets/2012datapgsv1d.pdf).
  5. Over 85 percent of attempted suicides by gun are successful.  See Miller M, Azrael D, Barber C. Suicide mortality in the United States: the importance of attending to method in understanding population-level disparities in the burden of suicide. Annual Review of Public Health. 2012;33:393–408.
  6. In 2016, guns were used in 22,938 suicides and 4,357 life-threatening suicide attempts,
    totaling 5.0% of the nation’s 545,052 life-threatening suicide attempts that year (500,087 nonfatal
    attempts and 44,965 suicides). In 2016, firearm suicides accounted for 22,938 (51.0%) of the 44,965 suicides in the United States. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Web-based Injury Statistics
    Query and Reporting System (WISQARS), “Fatal Injury Data and Non-Fatal Injury Data,” last accessed
    September 6, 2018, https://www.cdc.gov/injury/wisqars).
  7. JAMA Pediatr. 2019 Jul 1;173(7):657-662. doi: 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2019.1078.
  8. Jeffrey W. Swanson, Michele M. Easter, Kelly Alanis-Hirsch, Charles M. Belden, Michael A. Norko, Allison G. Robertson, Linda K. Frisman, Hsiu-Ju Lin, Marvin S. Swartz and George F. Parker
    Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law Online April 2019, JAAPL.003835-19; DOI: https://doi.org/10.29158/JAAPL.003835-19

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