More than 60% of the United States’ 30,000 annual gun-related deaths are due to suicide, outnumbering homicides. This is a startling statistic, one that leaves countless families with empty places at the dinner table and loved ones with questions that can never be answered. What caused this? What could have been done to stop it? And why is it often too late?
While most of us are concerned about the grim daily news reports and the safety of our communities from firearms (and rightfully so), there is also a population at risk of suicide, and access to a gun increases the risk of death. Suicide rates have increased over the years, becoming the 10th leading cause of death in the United States in 2013.
Are we equipped to deal with this? We’re told to watch for warning signs of active suicidal ideation that might become reality such as a loss of interest in activities, talking about death, and withdrawal from socializing. Mental illnesses, especially bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anorexia nervosa, and major depression can make everything more complex as they are at a much higher risk for suicide attempts. In addition, a sudden negative life event like a breakup, loss of a job, or financial crisis, can trigger thoughts of self-harm.
One key to understanding suicide risk is to realize that decisions to end one’s life are often, even if they’ve been planned, impulsive. Given time, the acute desire for suicide will pass. This means that anyone with access to a fast way to end their life is in far more danger.
Guns provide the means for many deaths by suicide
A gun in the home provides a lethal, and accessible, means of carrying out suicidal thoughts. Currently, there are an estimated 55 million Americans who own guns, and there are about 21,000 suicides by firearms yearly. In April 2009, the eased process of becoming one of those millions of gunowners proved itself to be deadly with the purchase of a gun in New Hampshire. A young man visited a gun shop near Manchester, and within hours of leaving, had died by suicide. He was one of three people that week who had done the same thing after buying guns from the same store.
This prompted a nationwide movement, Means Matter, to partner suicide prevention with gun shop owners. There was, and still is, no telling what reason someone has to buy a gun. However, there is now a national call to attempt to educate shop owners on how to potentially spot a suicide risk in their business.
- Providing pamphlets and posters advertising suicide hotlines and help centers for shop owners to keep in the open. Hopefully, these materials will catch the attention of at-risk buyers.
- Dialogue: if a customer says they only need a small amount of ammunition, or that they’re not particular about a certain gun or learning about its use, this should send a red flag to the clerk to try and dissuade a purchase. Engaging in targeted dialogue can also cause a person to think twice; again, suicidal ideation usually passes with time.
- Distribution or encouragement to purchase gun locks. Access to firearms is all too easy. The more protection a gun has, the longer it’ll take to access, and the more time there is to prevent suicide.
Minors are especially at risk for suicide. Texas has seen too many youth gun-related suicides where the gun was already in the home, easy to access. Many were the result of bullying, one even prompting the passing of “David’s Law” that made cyber bullying a misdemeanor. In one such case, a Texas girl died by suicide in front of her family after relentless cyber harassment. Why was that gun so easy to access?
Texas has no state registry for firearms, and there is no waiting period to purchase one. While guns must be locked and kept away, that initial access needs to take less than a walk-in visit to a gun store, and homeowners need to keep an eye on their loved ones, another on the gun safe. This is a long process, involving the action of the public—gun owners and not, medical staff and psychiatrists, and the de-stigmatization of mental illness so people can find help.
There are too many questions, but there can be answers.
Contact the Law Offices of Skip Simpson for a free case evaluation if suicide has affected you or your loved ones, and if it could’ve been prevented by better action of practitioners. Accessing the means to self-harm is one step, ensuring the safe care of suicidal patients and at risk people is another. Give us a call today.