Suicide By Gun

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Once again, America is transfixed by a mass shooting. No doubt the roster of slaughter will grow to include other shattered towns and families.

Yet almost two-thirds of gun deaths do not make national headlines. These are the more than 21,000 people -- many of them teenagers - who every year kill themselves with a gun. 

Suicide prevention experts know that the best way to prevent these tragedies is to restrict access to guns. Their research upends the common but false belief that those who are suicidal will just find some other way to kill themselves. In fact, self-destructive feelings are often impulsive and fleeting, dissipating as the crisis passes. Ninety percent of people who survive an attempt never go on to die by suicide. But when guns are involved, the crisis can quickly escalate, precluding safe resolution. Fast and deadly means no second chances. 

States with the highest rate of gun ownership also have the highest rates of suicide. Access to lethal means is a far greater risk factor than mental illness. Although some promote the fallacy that a gun in the home makes you safer, the opposite is true. The risk of suicide is two to five times greater for those who live in gun-owning homes. Teenagers -- more likely to act impulsively and opportunistically - -are especially vulnerable: The vast majority who shoot themselves to death use a gun belonging to a family member. These eye-opening facts empower us to foster safety for our loved ones regardless of do-nothing lawmakers. Homes without guns have the lowest suicide rates, but even where firearms are present, risk decreases if they're properly stored - unloaded and under lock and key. 

When it comes to preventing suicide, means matter. We always ask why people kill themselves. But we're better off focusing on how so many people die. 


It's the guns. If we really want to save lives, restricting easy access to such lethal means is our best approach.

With a Perspective, I'm Lorrie Goldin.

Lorrie Goldin is a psychotherapist who has worked in the field of suicide prevention for nearly 40 years.