Perhaps you’ve personally known someone, or treated someone, who attempted suicide using a firearm. Chances are, it was a man – and chances are, the attempt was fatal.
Guns and Suicide in the United States
Studies show that 76% of those who die by suicide in the U.S. are men, and 60% of male suicides are by firearm. Tragically, death is the result of over 80% of suicide attempts involving firearms. Since men are more likely to use firearms in suicide attempts, and since using a firearm results in a higher likelihood of death than other methods (such as overdose or suffocation/hanging), overall more men than women die as a result of suicide. For instance, approximately 77% of those who die by suicide during their first attempt are men and most of these deaths are by firearm.1
Regardless of the gender of suicide-by-firearm victims, increased awareness of firearm safety can go a long way in preventing fatal outcomes. Here are some ways that we can help to prevent suicide by firearms in our communities:
Suicide and Gun Ownership: Access to Firearms for At-Risk Individuals
While most gun owners feel that guns make them safer2, this is likely not true if a person in the household is suicidal. In fact, studies show that access to a firearm increases the risk of death by suicide by as much as three times for everyone in the household.3
One major action that can help save lives is to provide information about removing firearms, or installing trigger locks, firearms safes, and other methods of securing firearms to not only individuals at risk for suicide but also to their loved ones.
Provide Counseling on Firearm Safety
CAMS-care, which uses an evidence-based therapeutic framework for suicide-specific assessment and treatment of a patient’s suicidal risk, recommends a collaborative discussion between a healthcare provider and patient (and ideally the patient’s family or other support network) about how to stay safe. The CAMS-care assessment includes questions about access to firearms as well as personalized discussion of how to be safe with them. Recommendations for safety are not prescriptive; they are decisions made via collaborative problem solving. For some, the solution may be to remove firearms from the house altogether. For others, it may mean securing firearms in a gun safe with ammunition stored separately, and for others putting a picture of a loved one by the firearm is the only agreed upon deterrent.
Build Public Awareness of Firearm Safety to Prevent Suicide
They say “it takes a village to raise a child,” and the same could be said of preventing suicide. Public awareness campaigns about firearms safety in suicide prevention can reduce the number of deaths by suicide in our communities.
Campaigns launched by law enforcement, medical professionals, and gun shop owners can also help prevent suicide. For example:
- law enforcement agencies can expand existing gun licensing and safety training requirements for new or prospective gun owners to include suicide prevention information
- firearms dealers can offer suicide prevention-specific information in sponsored gun safety courses, and
- physicians and other medical professionals can discuss firearms safety and suicide risk with patients.
Grass-roots efforts by concerned citizens to raise awareness of firearms safety and suicide prevention can also help make our communities safer.
Over half of the adults in America know someone who has died by suicide.4 Perhaps with greater awareness of the role that firearms safety can play in suicide prevention, our loved ones and patients will have a better chance of surviving a suicide attempt, or even ultimately avoiding suicidal behavior altogether.
1 Bostwick, J. M., Pabbati, C., Geske, J. R., & McKean, A. J. (2016). Suicide attempt as a risk factor for completed suicide: even more lethal than we knew. American journal of psychiatry, 173(11), 1094-1100.
2 Igielnik R, Brown A. Key takeaways on Americans’ views of guns and gun ownership. Pew Research Center. June 22, 2017. https://pewrsr.ch/2sZzPjv.
3 Anglemyer A, Horvath T, Rutherford G. The accessibility of firearms and risk for suicide and homicide victimization among household members: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2014; 160: 101–110.
For more information
To learn more about how gender and gender identification affects suicidality, read “The Gender Paradox of Suicide: How Suicide Differs Between Men, Women, and Transgender/Gender Diverse Individuals” by Dr. Raymond P. Tucker.