Home'Unsecured Handguns Are The Driving Force In Firearm Suicide' In The U.S.

‘Unsecured Handguns Are The Driving Force In Firearm Suicide’ In The U.S.

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A Rutgers study found that most people who kill themselves with guns in the United States use handguns, many of which are kept loaded and unlocked.

Researchers evaluated data from the National Violent Death Reporting System to look at 117,126 people who died by firearm suicide between 2003 and 2018, and their findings were published in Death Studies. The research team analyzed the death scene narratives, the death certificates, and interviews with family members to discover the type of firearm used, how it was stored, and where the victims had shot themselves.

Most of the people who died used a handgun (65.3% of the deaths) that they owned (77.1%) and that was kept loaded (63.1%) and unlocked (59.1 percent). 81.4 percent of deaths were due to head injuries, and the majority of the remaining deaths were due to chest injuries. Men were more likely than women to use a rifle to commit suicide and to keep their weapons unlocked in storage. Researchers also found that younger people were more likely to have used firearms that had been stored unlocked, suggesting that children were gaining access to their parents’ unsecured weaponry.

There were not many disparities between people of different racial identities. However, those who committed suicide and identified as American Indian or Alaskan Native were significantly more likely to use a rifle or shotgun than those who identified as white. This pattern is probably partly explained by differences in firearm ownership and use (such as hunting) between these two groups. While gunshot wounds to the head account for the great majority of firearm suicide deaths, a consistent finding was that females were more likely than males to die from gunshot wounds to other parts of the body. Younger people were more likely to die from chest or abdomen injuries.

The findings of the study show “that, more often than not, unsecured handguns are the driving force in firearm suicide in America,” according to senior author Michael Anestis. 

“That said, some groups – like men and individuals who identify as American Indian/Alaskan native – are more likely than their peers to use long guns in their suicide death. As we encourage secure firearm storage and storing firearms away from home during times of stress, it is important to discuss more than just handguns, particular with certain individuals.”

Each year, more than half of all suicide deaths in the country are caused by firearms, and studies have repeatedly shown that anyone who lives in a home with firearms has an increased risk of dying by suicide. The study’s authors argue that methods like lethal means counseling are necessary to guarantee that people properly store their firearms (locked and unloaded). They also suggest policies that make it easier for people to legally store guns in locations other than their homes.

Despite the fact that pistols are most often used in suicides involving firearms, they contend that debates on secure storage must also cover rifles and handguns, especially in some localities.

Anestis remarked that the findings emphasize “the powerful role that secure firearm storage could play in firearm suicide prevention, including our efforts to prevent suicide among children and adolescents who might otherwise access their parents’ unsecured firearms. 

“If we can shift social norms on securing firearms and if we can provide easy paths toward legally storing firearms away from home during times of stress,” according to the author, “we have an opportunity to prevent thousands of tragedies every year. Doing this requires not only that we understand the disproportionate role of unsecured firearms, but that we acknowledge the risk that comes from rifles and shotguns, particularly in communities in which hunting is common.”

Image Credit: GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP via Getty Images

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