The discourse on American gun violence often focuses on homicide, mass shootings or assault; however, suicide is actually the leading cause of gun deaths, accounting for more than 60 percent of all gun deaths.
According to the Center for Disease Control, there were 42,773 suicides in 2014, half of which (21,334) were committed with firearms. At it’s core, this is partially because guns pose a more lethal method. However, according to the Violence Policy Center, people who commit suicide with a firearm aren’t necessarily more determined to commit suicide than other suicidal people; instead, they may just differ in that they have access to a firearm.
“More people in this country kill themselves with guns than with all other intentional means combined, including hanging, poisoning or overdose, jumping, or cutting,” stated this Harvard report. “Though guns are not the most common method by which people attempt suicide, they are the most lethal. About 85 percent of suicide attempts with a firearm end in death. (Drug overdose, the most widely used method in suicide attempts, is fatal in less than 3 percent of cases.) Moreover, guns are an irreversible solution to what is often a passing crisis. Suicidal individuals who take pills or inhale car exhaust or use razors have time to reconsider their actions or summon help. With a firearm, once the trigger is pulled, there’s no turning back.”
And the lethal combination of guns with the impulsive nature of suicide attempts only contributes to these numbers. Nearly half (48 percent) of suicide attempt patients reported less than 20 minutes elapsed from first thought of suicide to actual attempt. In this time, with some methods they may get sick instead, be found and taken to get medical help. However, with a gun twenty minutes in a vast amount of time and according to the VPC, guns, unlike other methods, require less preparation and planning.
“Sometimes you don’t even see it,” said Bertha Washington, a 63-year-old Rochester resident. She said her brother, Ishmael, committed suicide 26 years ago with their father’s gun. “I didn’t even know anything was wrong with him. He had a family, a nice house, but I guess he was depressed.”
She added that she was raised in a family that respects guns and chooses to keep hers. “I don’t think it’s about the gun, I think it’s the person. I’m not going to do that and I think we should be focusing more on getting people help than keeping guns from people. My brother needed help. He would’ve used another way probably. If someone wants to harm themselves, they will.”
Local legislators are hoping to at least make it harder and delay some of the time between someone feeling suicidal and their ability to access a gun through safe storage, closing loopholes that allow family members to bypass background checks if they give it to each other, or making permits harder to get.
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in America and second for Americans age 15-34, and firearms contribute to half of it, meaning it’s one of the quieter angles of gun violence discussion that definitely needs more discussion.