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Despite the oft-quoted slogan, "Guns don't kill people, people kill people", more than half of all suicides committed in the United States involve guns. According to Bennett L. Gershman of New York's Pace Law School, of the 38,000 suicides committed in the United States last year, more than half were gun-related. By contrast, only 9,000 gun-related homicides occurred that same year. The actual figures also fail to take suicide attempts into account which can push the numbers far higher.
In an opinion piece he wrote for the Journal News, Professor Gershman pointed out that gun-related suicide remains the most popular suicide method. Despite this however, actual discussion of the role that access to guns has in suicide remains curiously muted. "The principal cause of gun suicide relates to the increasing availability and access to guns, especially guns in homes where persons live who have psychiatric disorders, are depressed, impulsive, and aggressive. Why persons attempt suicide is a critical question", he says. "But also critical is how people attempt suicide, which often determines whether they live or die." While most gun-related suicide attempts are fatal, incidents of people surviving despite severe injuries have been seen as well. I recall dealing with several cases of this when I worked in the prison system (including one prisoner missing part of his face) and the medical issues involved can be extreme.
Research which Professor Gershman describes appears to bear this out. Suicide by gun has exceeded automobile accidents as the leading cause of injury-related death in the United States and is also the fastest-growing suicide method. A 2008 study by the Harvard School of Public Health found a powerful link between gun ownership and suicide with persons with guns in their home being sixteen times more likely to commit suicide than non-gun owners. States with the highest percentage of gun ownership also have the highest percentage of gun-related suicides. According to Harvard School of Public Health professor, David Hemenway, “Studies show that most attempters act on impulse, in moments of panic or despair. Once the acute feelings ease, 90 percent do not go on to die by suicide.”
Despite calls by leading medical organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics to remove guns from homes to prevent possible suicide use, successful lobbying by the National Rifle Association has blocked most initiatives to prevent gun deaths as well as research into gun-related suicides. As a result, Congress has blocked funding by the Center for Injury Prevention and Control into suicide research, especially research into gun-related deaths. In the meantime, the deaths are continuing and are likely to rise even further in the years to come.
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