World Suicide Prevention Day: Talking Guns and Their Role in Suicide Risk

World-Suicide Prevention Day

As today is World Suicide Prevention Day, preventing suicide necessarily requires us to acknowledge the deadly role that guns play in suicide today and what types of legislation can help to curb these deaths. In 2017, over half of the nearly 50,000 suicides committed involved a gun, ending the lives of more people than gun-related homicides. 

The Victims of Firearm Suicide

A vast majority of firearm suicide victims are men; in contrast, a WHO report determined that women are more likely to choose less lethal and less violent methods of suicide. There’s a cultural aspect of firearm suicide as well; unlike most countries, firearm suicide is the most common method in America. 

In any case, guns are the most lethal path to suicide, with an over 80 percent death rate. Additionally, guns, readily accessible in the home, tend to not allow people the time to have second thoughts on their decision to end their own life. Even having proximity to a gun shop is associated with a higher suicide rate, which may present opportunities to reconsider zoning regulations for weapons sales so that they are not readily purchased. 

By the way, having easy access to a gun — in the home or office — significantly raises the risk that someone will commit suicide, tripling its likelihood. This is especially problematic for police officers, who have experienced an uptick of officer suicides in recent years. Chuck Wexler, the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, told PBS News Hour that more officers die each year by suicide than while in the line of duty, and suicide is usually committed with a gun. “That availability of the firearm of 24/7 makes them particularly at risk,” he explained. 

Gun Legislation’s Role in Reducing the Suicide Rate

Though red flag laws have been the subject of political debate following the recent spate of mass shootings, their effect may be better suited to curb firearm suicide deaths. NBC News cited a study that found that longstanding red flag laws in Connecticut and Indiana — in effect for between 15 and 20 years — have worked to reduce suicide gun rates by 13.7 percent and 7.5 percent, respectively. Red flag laws allow for family members and law enforcement agents to alert authorities when a gun owner has demonstrated the potential to be of harm oneself or others. These laws are supported by an overwhelming majority of Americans, per a recent poll. 

Connecticut is also a state with a “permit-to-purchase” law, requiring buyers to complete a gun safety course and pass a background check prior to purchasing a permit that then allows them to purchase firearms. According to statistics cited by Everytown for Gun Safety, these regulations were associated with a 15 percent decline in the firearm suicide rate, whereas the repeal of these regulations in Missouri led to a 16 percent rise. To be clear, having access to guns isn’t the root cause of suicide. However, what little data we have on gun violence — and it’s not much, since research on gun violence hasn’t been a huge priority in this country — suggests that common sense regulations and effective policies can go a long way in saving the lives of vulnerable individuals by essentially erecting speed bumps designed to keep them safe.