Nearly 23,000 people die each year in the US from guns suicide, tragedy that overwhelms some rural congressional districts in the west and south of the country. This is evident from new research by the Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund.
A lack of mental health resources, changing economic realities, and a widespread gun ownership factor in the devastating and disproportionate local death toll across the country.
“Nationwide, almost half of all suicides involve a firearm. However, this Congressional district survey shows that the national average masks huge differences between districts, ”explains the Everytown report.
Meanwhile, experts fear that up to 7,000 lives could be lost to suicide in 2020 alone as Americans buy new firearms amid a heartfelt economic recession sparked by the coronavirus pandemic. “It̵
For months, more than a third of American adults have had symptoms of anxiety or depression, and crisis helpline phones have been ringing for callers concerned about their mental health, including thoughts of suicide.
But long before the first Covid-19 infection, a nationwide arms crisis hit the Americans: The suicide rate of firearms has increased by an astonishing 19% in recent years.
Everytown’s breakdown of data from all 435 congressional districts and Washington DC shows constituents how their own neighbors are affected and brings home “the observations that may not feel compelling at the national level,” said Deborah Azrael, director of research for Harvard Injury Control Research Center at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.
For residents and policy makers in the 20 hardest hit districts in the southern and western US, the analysis represents a rude awakening to chronically poor gun suicide rates. In 11 districts in Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Oklahoma, Oregon and Tennessee use guns to kill more than 100 people each year – roughly twice the national average.
In contrast, 17 congressional districts in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and DC suffer 10 or fewer gun suicides annually. All three states and the US capital have enacted Red Flag Laws, a way for family members, law enforcement officials, or other interested parties to seek court order for the temporary seizure of firearms if they pose a threat to themselves or others.
Most of the states in the northeast have much lower gun ownership rates than anywhere else in the country and have “tough laws” on gun acquisition, Burd-Sharps said. But even in regions where guns are becoming increasingly popular, families who keep their firearms safe are experiencing lower suicide rates.
“It is both reduced access to weapons in crisis and very strict adherence to weapon storage practices that disrupt access to people in crisis,” she said. “Policies are important, and one reason to do things in the congressional district is to hold elected officials … accountable [for] Support these guidelines. “
Nearly half of white men and 46% of rural adults own guns, reports the Pew Research Center. These demographics largely overlap with the people who are most susceptible to suicide with firearms. Although women are generally more likely to try to kill themselves, men and boys account for 86% of all suicides.
Native American and Alaska Native communities are also particularly vulnerable, a trend that Burd-Sharps attributes to rural challenges, a lack of culturally competent care, and intergenerational trauma from historically high suicide rates.
So-called deaths of desperation – deaths from suicide, opioids, or alcoholism – have plagued working-class Americans for decades as their economic prospects decline amid a radically evolving employment landscape, even without the virus-triggered economic downturn. Men also struggle with the social stigma and logistical hurdles to seeking emotional or mental help, especially in rural America.
During the pandemic, soaring arms sales between March and August pumped an estimated 11.8 million more firearms into the U.S. arsenal, which was already bloated with approximately 393 million plain clothes.
“We know that where there are more guns, more people die by suicide. And the reason more people die from suicide is that more people die from suicide with guns, ”Azrael said.
Approximately 90% of gun suicide attempts are fatal compared to 4% that do not involve firearms. In households with access to a gun, everyone is three times more likely to commit suicide, according to Everytown.
“One of the most effective things you can do to help people in crisis,” said Burd-Sharps, “is to keep a gun out of your hand.”