In announcing his new executive actions on gun control Tuesday, President Barack Obama made the frequency of suicide via firearms a sticking point in his argument for why his initiatives are necessary.
“We have tens of thousands of people every single year who are killed by guns,” he said. “We have suicides that are committed by firearms at a rate that far exceeds other countries.”
As of 2012, the US had the 50th highest suicide rate per 100,000 citizens in the world, according to the World Health Organisation. When compared to fellow advanced countries, the US was in the top 10 worldwide.
Breaking down the suicide rates by state, there is a positive correlation between states with stronger gun control laws and a lower suicide rate. Of course, this relationship does not prove that stronger gun control prevents or even reduces suicides, but it does show the two are linked in a potentially important way.
“Gun-friendly” states, gun ownership, and suicide
In the states ranked the top 25 most friendly for gun owners in 2015 by Guns & Ammo Magazine, the suicide rate per 100,000 people was nearly 16. That number was closer to 13.5 in the 25 least gun-friendly states from the same list, according to 2014 data from the
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). In the 12 states deemed the least gun-friendly, that number falls to 11 per 100,000.
More than 50% of suicides are carried out with guns, according to the AFSP. The next most common method is suffocation, which accounts for about 25% of suicides.
There also appears to be a link between state rates of gun ownership and suicide.
Wyoming, Montana, and Alaska, the states with the three highest gun ownership rates, have the three highest suicide rates in the country, according to a 2012 study by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health. And those same three states are also among the top 11 most gun-friendly, as ranked by Guns & Ammo.
“The literature suggests that having a gun in your home to protect your family is like bringing a time bomb into your house,” Dr. Mark Rosenberg, an epidemiologist who helped establish the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, told the New York Times in 2013. “Instead of protecting you, it’s more likely to blow up.”
In a 2006 effort to curb suicide attempts among soldiers, the Israeli Defence Force changed a policy that allowed soldiers to take their weapons home with them on weekends. In the following two years, the number of soldiers killing themselves on the weekend dropped 70%, according to a 2010 study; overall suicide rates among soldiers dropped 40%.
“These data clearly emphasise the effectiveness of decreasing access to firearms on suicide prevention; the 40% decrease in rates of suicide is an achievement unparalleled by any other means of suicide prevention,” the study said.
Also, researchers did not see an uptick in suicides by other means, such as suffocation or overdose, contrary to claims some people have made that this would happen if guns were unavailable.
Veterans make up more than 22% of all suicides in the US, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, while veterans and active military members make up just north of 7% of the overall population, according to FiveThirtyEight.com.
“The results of this study indicate that decreasing access to firearms can significantly decrease rates of suicide among adolescents, a finding that should encourage policy makers to decrease access to firearms,” the study said.
“Gun-friendly” states, gun ownership, and murder
There is also a correlation between gun ownership, gun friendliness, and murder, although it is not quite as strong as it is between gun ownership, gun friendliness, and suicide.
In the top 25 most gun-friendly states, the murder rate per 100,000 people in 2014 was 4.76, whereas it was 3.36 in the 25 most restrictive states. However, the state with the lowest murder rate (New Hampshire) actually has the 10th most lenient gun laws in the nation. Also, the state with the second most restrictive state for guns (New Jersey) has a significantly higher murder rate than the state that’s the second most lenient (Vermont).
The states with the four highest murder rates do fall inside the top 25 best states for gun owners, as do 10 of the top 12.
And, roughly 70% of murders involve a firearm, according to 2011 data from the National Institute of Justice.
Whether its via suicide, murder, or accidental firing, guns kill roughly 89 Americans each day and nearly 34,000 each year, according to estimates from the CDC.
“We can prevent a lot of these deaths and maimings,” Norah Vawter, who was shot in 1984 by a stranger, wrote in the Washington Post blog “Post Everything” on Thursday. Her mother was shot by the stranger as well, and she died years later due to her injuries.
“We can prevent pain and heartache. We just have to try.”