September is National Suicide Awareness Month, properly focusing attention on a national tragedy that has grown 33% from 1999 to 2017. Suicide is integrally entwined with the issue of gun violence. While only 6% of suicide attempts use guns, they’re the means of 54% of completed suicides, according to the American Journal of Public Health.
To understand how addressing gun violence will also affect suicide rates, some widely held myths must be dispelled.
Myth 1: Most suicides are planned in advance.
Fact: Most suicide attempts are impulsive, which makes it even more important to limit access to the means to suicide. In 24% of near-fatal suicide attempts, for example, the attempt came within five minutes of the decision to do so, and in 70%, within an hour. (New England Journal of Medicine.)
Myth 2: People who attempt suicide and are foiled will find another means.
Fact: Ninety percent of suicide attempt survivors do not subsequently die of suicide. However, the choice of suicide method matters — because of its lethality, 85% of suicide attempts with a gun do not allow a second chance at life; 95% of people using other means do get a second chance. The easy availability of a gun is usually the difference between a much longer life and immediate death. (Mental Health America.)
Myth 3: Gun violence victims are usually from homicides.
Fact: Nationally, gun suicides outnumber gun homicides 2 to 1. In Minnesota, it’s 3 to 1, with middle-aged, white, rural men the largest share of suicide victims.
Myth 4: Preventing gun suicide is a partisan issue.
Fact: No one wants to see people forfeit their lives because a gun is handy. Statistics show that gun owners are at higher risk of suicide — not because of higher incidence of mental-health issues, but because of the proximity of a gun. (Harvard School of Public Health.)
Both the Minnesota Legislature and U.S. Senate have an opportunity to begin to address the interrelated issues of gun violence and suicide by passing “red flag” laws that allow for temporary removal of guns through due-process court proceedings. The two pioneer red-flag states — Connecticut (1999) and Indiana (2005) — have seen approximately a 10% reduction in suicides. That’s a lot of lives saved. You too can help save lives: Contact state and national senators — including gatekeepers Paul Gazelka and Mitch McConnell — to advocate for passage of state and federal House-passed red-flag bills.
Rich Cowles, of Eagan, is a retired nonprofit executive.