Our country is experiencing a suicide epidemic. More than 47,000 Americans died by suicide in 2017—an average of 129 per day. It is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, responsible for more fatalities than many common diseases such as Parkinson’s, liver disease and hypertension. And the problem is getting worse—the suicide rate rose by about 30 percent in the last two decades, with increases for almost every age group.
Easy access to guns is a major cause of these horrifying numbers, according to a new report from my staff on the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee. Firearms were used in more than half of suicides in 2017. Approximately 85 percent of suicide attempts with a gun end in death, compared to less than 5 percent without a gun.
There is a clear positive association between levels of household gun ownership and suicide rates. This is true not only for the population as a whole, but also for every age group and both men and women. Access to a firearm triples the risk of death by suicide.
Geography is a strong predictor of gun suicide rates. People in rural areas are 75 percent more likely to die by firearm suicide than those in urban areas. Those in the Rocky Mountain region and the South are more likely to die by firearm suicide than in any other region of the country. Residents of Montana are almost 10 times more likely than those of New York, while residents of Wyoming and Alaska are more than four times as likely as those of California.
States with the highest rates of gun ownership have the highest firearm suicide rates. Many of these states lack basic gun safety laws, such as laws that allow police or family members to temporarily restrict gun access to at-risk individuals.
The increase in the suicide rate over the last two decades may also reflect economic distress caused by the Great Recession. Previous research has shown that suicide rates typically rise during economic downturns and fall during expansions. But this has not happened in the years following the Great Recession, as Americans in many areas of the country have yet to recover.
Rural communities were hit harder by the Great Recession. Economic recovery in these areas of the country has not matched that of urban areas as employment in rural communities still has not returned to its pre-recession levels, while urban employment surpassed its pre-recession peak in 2013. Rural counties have long outpaced urban ones in suicide rates, but the gap became even wider over the last two decades as suicide rates increased more rapidly in rural areas.
While suicide has reached epidemic proportions nationwide and continues to grow, it’s an even bigger problem for some portions of the population. Research shows that older Americans, men, whites, veterans and first responders suffer particularly high rates of suicide. Men are more than six times more likely than women to die by gun suicide. Those over age 65 are twice as likely as teenagers to die by gun suicide. Veterans and service members are one and a half times more likely than non-veterans.
The risks are much greater for those with a combination of risk factors. For example, white men over age 65 have a nearly five times higher risk for gun suicide than black men of the same age. And the firearm suicide rate for older men in rural areas is more than 20 times the rate for older women in metropolitan areas.
More work is needed to find ways to treat the underlying factors that lead to suicide attempts, but one thing is certain—easy access to firearms is a primary contributor to increased death from suicide. Research shows that the impulse of suicide often is sudden and transitory, and nine of 10 suicide survivors do not go on to die by suicide at a later date.
To stem the suicide epidemic, it is essential to reduce the availability of guns. It’s long past time to enact meaningful gun reform. The House of Representatives has already passed common-sense legislation, but the president and Senate Republicans are blocking it. The inaction of President TrumpDonald TrumpPredictions of disaster for Democrats aren't guarantees of midterm failure A review of President Biden's first year on border policy Hannity after Jan. 6 texted McEnany 'no more stolen election talk' in five-point plan for Trump MORE and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden stiff arms progressives on the Postal Service Biden clarifies any Russian movement into Ukraine 'is an invasion' The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden talks, Senate balks MORE (R-Ky.) is literally killing Americans.
Congresswoman Maloney (NY-12) is vice chair of the Joint Economic Committee, acting chair of the House Oversight and Reform Committee and a senior member of the House Financial Services Committee. Maloney has introduced five pieces of gun safety legislation, including bills that would close the gun show loophole and crack down on firearm trafficking. She is a co-sponsor on other bills, including an assault weapons ban and universal background checks, as well.