Our View: Gun accessibility and suicide

Thursday , March 06, 2014 - 11:58 AM

Editorial Board

A study, authored by a sociology professor at the University of California-Riverside, Augustine J. Kposowa, makes the provocative claim that gun ownership, as well as the state’s prevalent conservatism, contribute to Utah’s high suicide rate. One aspect of Kposowa’s research seems worth studying. A relationship between firearms accessibility and a higher-than-average suicide rate is something that should be addressed.

We wouldn’t give someone who is depressed a noose, or look away if that individual has easy access to deadly prescription drugs. So, why make it easy for depressed, suicidal individuals to have easy access to guns?

Eighty-five percent of gun-related deaths in Utah between 2007 and 2011 were suicides, according to the Utah Department of Health.

The 2009 suicide of Catherine Birch’s father, 76, is an example of loved ones left surprised that a suicide victim would use a gun. Her father, a veteran, owned several firearms, including some that were kept in the trunk of his car. However, Birch, president of the Davis County affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, says she was never worried that he would use a gun to kill himself. He never threatened suicide. If she had known he was thinking of suicide, Birch says she would have taken away his guns.

Utah ranks fifth in the nation in firearm-related suicides. According to Kposowa’s study, “of all suicide methods, firearms have the highest case fatality, implying that an individual that selects to use this technique has a low chance of survival.” Also, according to Dr. Douglas Gray, a suicidologist and psychiatrist for University of Utah Health Care, there are 37 gun-related suicides for every five attempts to shoot an intruder.

It’s common sense that efforts should be made to eliminate access to weapons for persons who are suicidal. The relationship between accessibility to firearms and suicide should be explored and efforts made to lessen the opportunity for suicidal individuals to have access to guns.

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