In America today, suicide is the most common cause of fatal gunshot injuries, responsible for over 60% of all fatal shootings. It turns out that the greater part of fatal gun violence does not come from armed strangers intent on criminal wrong-doings, but from gun owners who turn their guns on themselves.
This diary is part of the Firearm Law and Policy group's ongoing series Guns and Suicide. For interested readers, the previous installments of the series can be found here:
Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: Gun Suicides Rise and Fall with Gun Sales
Part 3: The Whos, Whats, and Whys of Guns and Suicide
Part 4: Suicide Among Active-Duty Military and Veterans
Part 5: Racial Disparities in Gun Homicides and Gun Suicides
Part 6: Gun Violence and Mental Illness
|This series has focused on the broad topic of guns and suicidal behavior in America today. Suicide is a topic that makes most people uncomfortable, and receives little attention in public discussions and in the media. Consequently, it is easy for assumptions, popular myths, and public misconceptions to obscure factual knowledge. The overall goal of this series on guns and suicide is to dispel some of the prevalent misunderstandings on this topic, and to encourage conversations about the facts of guns and suicide.
Along the way to that goal, we have raised these important points.
In America today, suicide is the most common cause of fatal gunshot injuries, responsible for over 60% of all fatal shootings. It turns out that the greater part of fatal gun violence does not come from armed strangers intent on criminal wrong-doings, but from gun owners who turn their guns on themselves. Since 2000, the number of suicides completed with a gun has been steadily increasing among America’s general population. A sharp rise in the number of suicides has also been observed among America’s active duty military and among service veterans - prompting Pres. Obama to ask the Veteran’s Administration hire more mental health care workers and to expand treatment services for service personnel and veterans.
Guns are the most popular way of committing suicide in America today, accounting for more suicides that all other suicide methods combined. This is because guns are plentiful and easily available, highly lethal, and easy to use.
A gun in the home is a risk factor for a shooting death. While guns may be bought for reasons of personal protection and safety, owning a gun puts one at greater risk for a shooting injury – including accidental shootings, suicidal shootings, and even criminal shootings. Homes where there is a gun have a 2-10 fold increase in the likelihood of a suicidal shooting compared to homes where there are no guns. This increased risk for a suicidal shooting remains even when the guns are stored locked and unloaded. A gun in the home is 20-30 times more likely to be used in a suicidal shooting than to defend against a criminal attack. There are many things home owners and families can do to protect their homes and loved ones: removing the guns from the home is an important step to take. For those whose jobs require them to keep a gun in the home, storing the guns locked and unloaded helps to reduce the risk for a gunshot injury, but does not eliminate it entirely.
Where there are more guns, there are more gunshot injuries. And where there are more guns, there are more gun suicides. Indeed, the FBIs' NCIS data - the best measure of gun sales in America - correlates very highly with suicidal shootings, the total number of US shooting deaths, and the number of non-fatal gunshot injuries. Since the ‘aughties, there has been a large increase in guns sold, and this has been accompanied by a significant increase in suicidal shootings over the same period of time - as predicted by the correlation of guns sold and gun suicides completed. As grim as this finding is, it also suggests a way to reduce the occurrence of gun suicides: reduce the number of guns sold and/or reduce the number of available guns.
While suicide is the most common cause of fatal gunshot injuries for the US population as a whole, differences emerge when one studies racial groups separately. The majority of whites killed by guns die from an act of suicide; however, the majority of blacks killed by guns die from an act of homicide. No one knows exactly how or why these differences occur. Current trends in housing and social segregation may play a role; the vast majority of gun homicides occur in urban areas while the majority of gun suicides occur in rural areas. What is abundantly clear is that blacks and whites in America today experience gun violence in very different ways.
It is tempting to imagine that suicide is a rational and free choice made by those who attempt it. However, there is a large and growing body of research that provides evidence that those who contemplate suicide are not thinking well and clearly, and are not making a rational choice. Most who are contemplating suicide are coping with feelings of depression or anxiety, may be affected by alcohol or drug abuse, or may be experiencing the stress of divorce, job loss, or recent bereavement. All of these things hinder clear thinking and impair sound judgment. Deciding on suicide is not like deciding on what to have for dinner. Indeed, gun owners themselves admit that when faced with the possibility of an imminent suicide of a family member, the first thing they seek to do is to remove all the guns from the suicidal family member. Removing guns from suicidal people is an effective way to reduce suicides: this is exactly why psychiatrists recommend in-patient hospitalization for suicidal patients – the hospital is a safe environment where patients cannot get their hands on guns or other lethal tools. Once again, the message is that reducing gun availability reduces suicides.
While suicidal shootings are the most common form of fatal gun violence, suicidal shootings rarely get any mention in the news. Fatal shootings that arise during a criminal attack will almost always be “front-page news” in newspapers and on TV. This disparity between the number one cause of fatal gun violence and what gets reported in the news gives Americans an unrealistic idea of the true nature of gun violence in America today. This erroneous understanding of fatal shootings is compounded by the advertising and political rhetoric of the gun industry – who advertise guns as a personal safety tool, and who blame the increasing amounts of gun violence in America solely on the problems of the mentally ill. Both the advertising message and the political message are in fact erroneous.
We owe it to ourselves, our families, and our communities to address the stigma and silence surrounding suicide in general, and to correct the myths and falsehoods told specifically about guns and suicide. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who read this series and commented on it, and to thank the Firearm Law and Policy group for hosting the series.
The Daily Kos Firearms Law and Policy group studies actions for reducing firearm deaths and injuries in a manner that is consistent with the current Supreme Court interpretation of the Second Amendment. We also cover the many positive aspects of gun ownership, including hunting, shooting sports, and self-defense.
To see our list of original and republished diaries, go to the Firearms Law and Policy diary list. Click on the ♥ or the word "Follow" next to our group name to add our posts to your stream, and use the link next to the heart to send a message to the group if you have a question or would like to join.