Study links rates of gun ownership and suicide
Enid News & Eagle - 6/3/2018
June 03--A recently released study ties the rates of suicide by firearms to the prevalence of gun ownership, and ranked Oklahoma fourth in the nation for suicides committed with a gun.
The study, conducted by the Violence Policy Center and released May 30, analyzed 2016 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on suicide rates by firearms and gun ownership rates for all 50 states.
The Violence Policy Center (VPC), a Washington D.C.-based group that advocates for gun control legislation, found a correlation between states with "strong gun violence prevention laws and a lower rate of gun ownership" and lower rates of suicide by firearms, and conversely, higher rates of gun suicide were found in states with "lax gun violence prevention laws as well as a higher rate of gun ownership."
Montana had the highest gun suicide rate in the nation at 15.54 suicides per 100,000 people, and one of the highest gun ownership rates in the nation at 67.5 percent.
Rounding out the top five states in incidence of gun suicides were Alaska, Wyoming, Oklahoma and West Virginia. Oklahoma had 13.18 firearms suicides per 100,000 people and a gun ownership rate of 46.7 percent.
New Jersey had the lowest gun suicide rate in the nation at 1.97 firearms suicides per 100,000 people, with a gun ownership rate of 17.4 percent. Massachusetts, New York, Hawaii and Connecticut, in that order, filled out the five states with the lowest rates of gun suicide in the nation.
The total number of American deaths in gun suicides increased to 22,938 in 2016 from 22,018 in 2015, according to the VPC report.
Overall, there were 44,965 suicides in the United States in 2016 -- 123 suicides per day, or about one suicide every 11.7 minutes, according to the VPC report.
A firearm was used in 51 percent of those deaths.
Nationwide the gun suicide rate in 2016 was 7.1 per 100,000 people, according to the CDC -- about 46 percent lower than the rate in Oklahoma.
VPC legislative director Kristen Rand said residents of states like Oklahoma, Alaska and Montana may be surprised at how much higher their rates of gun suicide are than the national average.
"In many of these states, residents would be shocked to learn that they have the highest gun suicide rates in the nation, the most common type of gun death we see across America," Rand said. "Firearms are the key factor in whether a suicide attempt is completed or not. Reducing access to firearms is a critical step in addressing this clear public health threat."
The VPC findings are supported by a 2016 study published by the National Institutes of Health, which found that "among both genders, increased prevalence of firearms is associated with an increase in the firearm-specific suicide rate," and "higher gun ownership is associated with higher overall suicide rates among male persons."
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) attributes the link between higher gun ownership rates and gun suicide not to gun owners being more likely to attempt suicide, but rather to attempts with a firearm being much more likely to end in death.
"Because firearms owners are no more likely than non-firearms owners to have mental health problems or to attempt suicide, their increased suicide risk likely stems from the greater lethality of attempts involving guns," the AFSP stated on their website.
That's backed up by 2015 data from the CDC, which found suicide attempts with a firearm were fatal in 85 to 90 percent of cases.
Firearms remain the most prevalent means of suicide in Oklahoma, especially for men, who use guns in 65 percent of all suicide deaths, according to a 2017 report by the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.
Tippi Rasp, a licensed professional counselor in Enid, said the data linking access to firearms and the rate of suicide is significant, because it demonstrates what people need to do when a loved one expresses suicidal thoughts or plans: remove their access to firearms.
"When you look at the states with the highest rates of suicide, they're all rural and they all have a high rate of gun ownership," Rasp said. "Studies consistently show if you can reduce the most lethal means, you can reduce suicide rates."
The presence of firearms also can increase the rate of impulsive suicide, Rasp said, which is particularly dangerous for young males.
"Young males are more impulsive in their suicidal acts," she said, "and if they're feeling suicidal and have a firearm available, that's the most dangerous time for them."
Rasp said a common argument is that "if they don't have a gun, they'll just find another way." She said that's a misconception, because people experiencing suicidal thoughts often fixate on a means of killing themselves, and are less likely to attempt suicide if that means is not available.
"If someone desires to die by suicide by firearm, and you remove the firearms, they're not likely to go to another method," she said.
She said family members and loved ones need to remove guns from the reach of anyone expressing suicidal tendencies.
"If you know someone who is suicidal, take their firearm -- make sure they don't have access to it," she said. "They may be mad, but I'd rather have someone be mad at me and alive, than have them not be alive to be mad at me."
Sean Byrne, owner of The Byrne Center, an Enid counseling center, said removing all lethal means from someone experiencing suicidal thoughts increases the chance of them receiving help before it's too late.
"When we know someone is at risk of suicide, we want to limit their access to dangerous means as much as possible, whether that's guns, medication, or whatever it is, we want to reduce access to means in order to keep individuals safe until intervention can take place," he said. "Whatever creates distance between the suicidal individual and the means to execute their intent creates room for intervention and help."
Once the immediate threat is past, Byrne said it's crucial anyone at risk for suicide seek professional clinical help to treat the causes behind the suicidal feelings.
"Suicide is a symptom, not a disease," Byrne said. "We want to address the underlying causes that are making them feel like they want to kill themselves."
Anyone experiencing or anyone who knows someone experiencing suicidal thoughts can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-TALK, or for any imminent threat dial 911.
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