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Gun suicides can be prevented through voluntary self-prohibition

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When it comes to gun violence, our country is distracted; it’s understandable. In 2017 alone, we grieved the deadliest mass shooting in American history, the deadliest church shooting, and countless gun deaths in neighborhoods across the country.  

These events, deaths, and injuries are so horrific, so tragic, that they consume our emotional energy. They consume our compassion. They dominate our minds and muddy our ability to see an important piece of the puzzle: suicides comprise the majority of America’s gun violence epidemic.

{mosads}Suicide is the most common type of gun violence in the United States. Six out of ten gun deaths are suicides, and guns account for approximately half of all suicide deaths. This high proportion is not because guns are the most commonly used method in suicide attempts — they are not.


It is largely because guns are nearly always lethal. In addition to a gun’s lethality, suicide is almost always impulsive, and this impulsivity combined with lethality is a deadly combination. If a gun is on the bedside table, the kitchen counter, in a safe, or available for quick and easy purchase during a suicidal crisis, an impulsive moment of pain can result in death.  

Many individuals who died by suicide might have survived without easy access to guns. Though there is a common misconception that suicidal individuals will simply “find another way,” most individuals do not substitute another method if their preferred method is not available.

People who believe they might be at risk for firearm suicide — whether they live with a mental illness and experience suicidal ideation or are struggling with distressing life events (or both) — should be able to voluntarily put themselves on a no-buy list, which would prevent them from purchasing firearms. A voluntary no-buy list would be a lifesaving tool for those who recognize their own risk for suicide and want to protect themselves during periods of suicidality, which can be chronic for some.

Voluntary self-prohibition would allow individuals at risk of firearm suicide to prepare for potential suicidal crises before they occur. The process, which would be confidential and require identity verification, could exponentially increase an individual’s likelihood of surviving a suicide attempt. Later, if individuals wanted to remove themselves from the no-buy list, they could do so after a waiting period.

Several states are considering this voluntary self-prohibition legislation. This commonsense, cutting-edge policy would be an effective suicide prevention tool that could save lives without burdening gun owners or those who do not wish to use it.

Voluntary self-prohibition could give suicidal individuals a second chance by putting a barrier between them and firearms. Suicidal crises usually pass quickly, and approximately 90 percent of those who survive a suicide attempt do not go on to die by suicide.

Survivors of suicide attempts have said they recognized their mistake immediately after initiating the attempt. Guns rarely allow for such a realization. Guns rarely provide a second chance. Guns seldom allow those suffering to be part of the 90 percent who continue living. Through voluntary self-prohibition, policymakers can give individuals at risk of suicide the tools to be proactive and save their own lives.

In order to address our firearm suicide crisis, state and federal legislators must recognize that suicide is preventable. They must recognize that those at risk of suicide have agency and can make their own decisions. And they must give these individuals the tools to do so.

Bryan Barks is the executive editor at the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.

Tags gun violence Suicide

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