THE GRISLY carnage from mass shootings regularly attracts the nation’s focus as a public safety issue, if only fleetingly. But the highest death toll from guns by far continues to be the far less noticed wave of suicides – nearly 20 000 a year – by Americans whose easy access to guns presents an irresistible temptation in a critical moment of despair.
Suicide accounts for two-thirds of the 30 000-plus gun deaths each year, as more than half of all suicides are carried out by firearms, according to the latest federal data.
If it takes a sensational statistic to spur national concern about such self-destruction, consider the latest research showing that 82 percent of teenage suicides by firearms involve guns left poorly secured or foolishly unprotected by members of their families. These young lives are impulsively lost in supposedly safe home environments, where just the presence of a gun has been found to increase the risk of suicide three times, according to a new report by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a gun safety organisation.
The report also notes that 85 percent of people attempting suicide by gun succeed, while drug overdose, the main method chosen for suicide attempts, is fatal only 2 percent of the time. Ninety percent of those who fail in a suicide attempt embrace their second chance at life and do not eventually die by suicide.
There is stark evidence that easy access to guns compounds the crisis. The states with the five highest rates of gun suicides have gun ownership rates notably higher than the national average, according to the Brady study. Meanwhile, the gun lobby and firearm industry are engaged in a reckless campaign to have more Americans own and carry guns.
The suicide problem is enormously complicated without irresponsible access to guns. At a minimum, people who own guns should be required to keep them firmly under lock for the safety of society, let alone their own families.