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Suicide Prevention and the Responsible Gun Owner

Nearly 45,000 Americans take their own lives each year. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in America.

September is national suicide prevention month, and the 10th was world suicide prevention day. There is a large possibility that you have directly been affected by the suicide of a loved one or close friend. You may be suffering from depression or have a family member that does.

And you may very well own firearms. As a “gun community,” we do a great job of explaining why more gun control will not stop mass shootings, or why prohibiting firearm possession by legal gun owners in certain locations actually make those places more unsafe. We appropriately point to the driving factor in much of the crime in which firearms are used: Mental health.

But I feel collectively we do a poor job of talking with others or gun owners, about mental health issues and suicide as it relates to firearm ownership. I thought this would be a great opportunity to present some sobering numbers.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) gathered the following information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Data & Statistics Fatal Injury Report for 2016. The suicide rates listed are Age-Adjusted Rates.

There are around 45,000 lives lost to suicide each year in the United States alone. That is more than the entire city of Palm Springs, California. How do guns factor into suicides? Well, they account for about 51% (about 22,000) of all completed suicides. The next method accounts for 26% (around 11,500) of suicides, and that is suffocation.

Not only are firearms the preferred method for suicide, many mass shooters suffer from mental illness and often their act of murder is just a precursor to their ultimate goal of suicide. Regardless of where these people get the firearm from, be it their own collection or a family member, we can see that whenever humanly possible, access to firearms by those contemplating suicide should be avoided.

Of course, there is no indicator that absolutely identifies someone who is going to commit suicide or go on a murdering rampage. But there are things we all can do that could potentially send these numbers in a downward trend.

First, if we make ourselves aware of the risk factors that many who commit suicide are affected by, we can safeguard when we see issues first appear. There seems to be a correlation between ethnicity and gender and suicide. For example, white, males accounted for 7 of 10 completed suicides, with middle-aged, white males being the most at-risk.

The suicide rate among American Indians has been fairly close to that of whites, but after seeing a decline in 2008-2012, that rate has again turned upwards in the last few years. The suicide rate of Asain/Pacific Islanders and black groups remain consistently low.

This pie graph from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) shows that a firearm is used in 51% of completed suicides.

Suicide rates of military veterans and first responders are much higher than that of the rest of the population. In this in-depth study by the Department of Veterans Affairs, suicide rates and factors of veterans from 1979-2014 were studied. The data suggest that mental health illness combined with substance abuse was the driving factor in suicide.

Bi-Polar disorder was the mental health condition that seemed to cause the veteran to be most at risk. And first responders often take their own lives due to the continual exposure to stressful incidents and an unhealthy lifestyle due to years of shift work.

We need to be careful to stay away from flagging anyone as a suicide risk simply because of their gender, race, or because they have a specific occupation. What we should use the data for is to identify when our peers, especially the ones in these groups show signs of depression or emotional problems.

A second way to help is to ensure you do your part to secure your firearms whenever there is a chance that someone who suffers from mental health, or a substance abuse addiction could potentially have access to them. Having a family member who has mental health issues doesn’t mean you can’t own firearms, but it should put you on heightened alert to safeguard your firearms.

Sure, there is a way to break into any safe if there is the will. But studies have shown that delaying the ability to obtain the firearm, even if it is just for 30 min, can cut the follow-through rate of suicide drastically. In other words the longer it takes to break into the safe, the less likely they are to complete the act.

Finally, you can support organizations that focus on suicide prevention and those that aim to give vets suffering from PTSD the ability to do find purpose again.

The NSSF has a program for retailers aiming to help educate firearms owners to identify and prevent suicide. A new program called Walk the Talk America is a collaboration of industry professionals identifying ways to curb the suicide problem as it relates to firearm ownership.

And Rick Cicero put together the organization, Honored American Veterans Afield (HAVA) which helps wounded combat veterans find an alternative to pain medication and isolation, by getting them out to the range and around others overcoming similar issues.

Organizations such as HAVA, Honored American Veterans Afield help disabled veterans realize that they still have a purpose in life. Veterans are 25% more likely to commit suicide compared to the civilian population.

These are just a few organizations but you likely have local organizations or mental health programs through your employer that you can access if you are having issues yourself.

Be responsible, know yourself and stay engaged in the lives of those around you. Help others at all cost and seek out help if you need it. Trust me, I know the difficulty of admitting you may need help. And the stigma that comes along with seeking out that help. But the alternative is not an option.

God bless.

If you know any other organizations that help, please feel free to drop them in the comments below.

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