SALT LAKE CITY -- Gun deaths are on the rise in Utah, and suicides account for the vast majority of them, according to the Utah Department of Health.
Gun deaths from 2007 to 2011 in the state were 23 percent higher than from 2001 to 2005, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.
From 2007-11, Utah averaged 271 gun deaths annually, with suicides accounting for 84 percent of them, a slight increase from 2001-05, the health department said.
By comparison, the Utah Highway Patrol reported an annual average of 263 traffic fatalities from 2007-11.
Data from the Utah state medical examiner show guns in Utah kill 11 of every 100,000 people annually, compared with last year's national average of 10.4 gun deaths per 100,000.
But homicides involving guns declined slightly to about 30 killings per year from 2007-11, The Tribune reported.
Hospital charges for firearm injuries in Utah were over $22 million from 2007-11, for an average of $45,800 per patient, according to the health department. For 2001-05, the cost was $12.4 million, or $25,700 a patient. The charges include public and private costs.
Teresa Brechlin, violence prevention coordinator for the health department, said a statewide coalition is preparing a new anti-suicide campaign. Among other steps, the coalition wants to identify people at risk of suicide and limit their access to guns and drugs.
"We're not going to say we need to limit gun ownership," she said, adding the program instead will discuss "things like gun locks, gun safes, limiting firearms for people with mental health issues."
State law prohibits gun possession for anyone ruled incompetent by a court or ever committed to a mental institution, but there's no prohibition for anyone suffering from more common mental illnesses such as depression.
Therese Richmond, research director of the Firearm and Injury Center at the University of Pennsylvania, said restricting gun access for people suffering mental health problems would reduce gun deaths. Richmond also favors requiring background checks on all gun purchases.
But Clark Aposhian, chairman of the Utah Shooting Sports Council, opposes increased background checks and waiting periods. "How is a background check going to clear somebody who has an occasional or one-time suicidal thought?" he asked.