Giffords Law Center Details Deadly Tie Between Guns and Suicide in New Analysis

Report indicates gun suicides represent only 5 percent of suicide attempts, but result in half of suicide deaths

September 14, 2018 — Over half a million men, women, and children in the United States have taken their own lives since 2004. A newly updated report from Giffords Law CenterConfronting the Inevitability Myth: How Data-Driven Gun Policies Save Lives from Suicide, highlights the latest available data showing the lethal connection between guns and suicide, and urges lawmakers to combat rising suicide rates by enacting proven lifesaving solutions.

“The relationship between easy access to guns and suicide is undeniable. Most people who attempt to take their own life without a gun survive. But people who reach for a gun in a suicidal crisis rarely get a second chance,” said Giffords Law Center attorney, Ari Freilich. “The nation’s suicide epidemic is growing worse fast, and immediate unrestricted access to guns is a main cause. But there is hope, because suicide is not inevitable. There are effective policy solutions to this crisis that would give more people second chances. This report provides a comprehensive look at the relationship between firearms and suicide risk and outlines effective policy solutions lawmakers can enact today to save more families from preventable tragedy.”

Today, over half of all suicides result from self-inflicted gunshot wounds. Yet the link between gun access and suicide risk remains dangerously misunderstood, denied, and ignored. While the gun lobby continues to perpetuate the myth that guns play no role in suicide, the reality is the vast majority of people who attempt suicide survive their attempt—unless they use firearms. This is why guns are used in 5% of suicide attempts but cause over 50% of suicide deaths. This report outlines some of the key steps lawmakers can take to address this public health epidemic and make it harder for people in suicidal crisis to access guns. These steps include:

  • Passing Universal Background Checks: Federal law prohibits people with the most severe histories of mental health impairments and suicidality from accessing firearms, including people who have been involuntarily committed to a psychiatric hospital for their own safety. But current loopholes in the background check systems of many states let some prohibited individuals acquire guns from unlicensed sellers without a background check.

  • Passing Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) Laws: Many severely mentally ill individuals fall outside the federal definition of a prohibited purchaser, which means they’re still able to buy guns. An ERPO creates a standard civil court process that empowers families to temporarily remove firearms from loved ones who are experiencing a mental health crisis.

  • Empowering Voluntary Gun Removals: In some cases, family, friends, therapists, or physicians can successfully convince a struggling person to temporarily hand over their firearms. Lawmakers should encourage or require local law enforcement to develop clear protocols to accept and temporarily store firearms voluntarily relinquished by suicidal individuals.

  • Enacting Waiting Periods: Suicide attempts are typically impulsive, singular episodes that involve little planning. By adding a small but crucial cooling off period for people purchasing guns, lawmakers can help prevent at-risk people from immediately acquiring the most lethal means of suicide during acute crises.

  • Promoting Safe Storage and Smart Gun Innovation: Gun storage practices and laws blocking minors from purchasing their own guns can be credited with saving many young people’s lives. Laws that make it harder for minors to access unsecured guns and ammunition help prevent senseless tragedies. Smart guns could be a potential game-changer for suicide prevention efforts, particularly among youth. If a child’s parents, neighbors, and extended family members could use the same user-authentication features on their gun as they have on their phone, thousands of young lives would be saved. Lawmakers can help promote these gun safety innovations by enlisting consumer and product safety agencies to test and certify new models.

  • Strengthening and Protecting Doctors’ Ability To Save Lives: Doctors and other healthcare professionals are commonly expected to talk with patients about their safety and well-being, and play a critical role in identifying and treating patients at risk of suicide. But a relatively small number of primary care professionals receive suicide prevention training and too few incorporate counseling about suicide and gun safety into their routine patient care. Improving primary care providers’ knowledge and training about suicide prevention is important because these providers frequently come into contact with patients at high risk of suicide.

Read the full report: Confronting the Inevitability Myth: How Data-Driven Gun Policies Save Lives from Suicide

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