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National Editorial & Columnists

EDITORIALS ELSEWHERE: Desperation and guns: a lethal combination

Suicide victims often get overlooked in the gun legislation argument

Gun violence and mass shootings are the focus of attention in Congress, and rightly so. But the news that suicide rates are continuing to rise in the United States adds to the need for the nation to establish stricter gun safety laws.

Researchers at Ohio State University studied 453,577 U.S. residents aged 25 to 65 who died by suicide from 1999 to 2016. The report, published Sept. 6 by JAMA Network Open, found significantly higher suicide rates in rural communities and places with high poverty and a proliferation of gun shops.

A separate study released Wednesday by the Violence Policy Center confirmed that states with the highest suicide rates had weak gun violence prevention laws and easy access to guns. The states include Montana (29.61 suicides per 100,000 residents), Wyoming (27.10), Alaska (27.03), New Mexico (23.51) and Idaho (22.83).

California, which has strict gun laws, has the fifth-lowest suicide rate in the United States (10.91 per 100,000 residents). Researchers said that the four states with lower suicide rates than California – New York (8.54 per 100,000 residents), New Jersey (8.83), Massachusetts (9.94) and Maryland (10.41) – all had “strong gun violence prevention laws as well as a lower rate of gun ownership.”

As of Sept. 1, mass shootings in the United States had claimed the lives of 335 people this year. But firearm suicides account for about 65 deaths per day, or a total of 23,854 in 2017, according to the Violence Policy Center.

Suicide attempts are often impulsive responses to immediate crises. Studies show that guns are used in about 5% of suicide attempts, but they are responsible for 50% of suicide deaths. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also reports that 90% of people who attempt suicide with a firearm die, but overall, only 11% of all people who attempt suicide die.

Three gun safety laws already in place in California could help reduce firearm suicides nationwide:

• Waiting periods: Congress should pass federal legislation requiring a 10-day waiting period for all firearm purchases, transfers and private sales.

• Universal background checks: A comprehensive background check law would keep guns from being purchased by people who have been diagnosed with a severe mental illness or are known to be contemplating suicide.

• Gun violence restraining orders: Congress should allow an immediate family member or law enforcement officer to petition to prohibit a person from possessing or purchasing a firearm. Judges must decide whether the person petitioned to be restrained poses a significant danger of causing personal injury to himself/herself, or another person in the near future.

The national suicide rate (14 per 100,000 people in 2017) has increased 33% since 1999 and is the highest it’s been since World War II. The CDC says that suicide is now the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. Congress should follow California’s model and prioritize instituting gun safety laws that will help prevent suicides and their devastating impact on families.

The number for the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 800-273-TALK (8255). The lifeline is manned 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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