Guns and suicide: Strong evidence for controls

SUICIDE IS rarely discussed in the gun control debates that flare up after mass shootings like the one in Newtown, Conn., last December. But 19,362 Americans killed themselves with a firearm in 2010, compared to 11,078 who died in firearm homicides, according to federal statistics. That is not just a matter for debate but an urgent public health concern.

A groundbreaking Harvard School of Public Health study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, found four times the number of firearm suicides in the states with the highest gun ownership compared to those with the lowest gun ownership. It’s not because more people try to kill themselves; it’s just that more succeed. Alaska, where 60 percent of adults live in homes with firearms, has virtually the same suicide-attempt rate as Massachusetts, where 10 percent of adults live with guns. The simple availability of guns leads to far more lethal results, with women having eight times more suicides.

Study author Matthew Miller said the role of guns in suicides is analogous to the chances of a rural crash at high speed being more deadly than a fender bender on a city side street. Plainly, those who attempt suicide as a plea for help are more likely to survive and overcome their despondency when guns aren’t around to settle the issue. It’s another reason to be concerned about the rise of the gun culture, and diligent in background checks of those seeking to obtain guns. All those gun-control critics who insist that criminals will always find a way to get illegal weapons, while law-abiding citizens will be forced to undergo checks, should ponder how many mental patients and others in the grips of depression would be spared an early death if forced to undergo checks at gun shows or shops.