If we reach across the gun divide, we can prevent firearm suicides

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Firearm suicides make up 60 percent of all gun deaths in America annually, and about half of all suicides in recent years are by firearm, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Close to 90 percent of suicide attempts by firearm are fatal, and every 11 minutes, someone dies by suicide in this country. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death among Americans. Given the severity of the issue and the 20-year trend of increasing suicide rates in America, there is no time to waste addressing this national epidemic

A desire to drastically reduce, and one day eliminate, these deaths has brought together unlikely allies — gun rights and responsibilities advocates, gun industry leaders, suicide prevention organizations, gun violence prevention advocacy groups, mental health and medical practitioners, researchers and faith leaders — via the Convergence Dialogue on Guns & Suicide Prevention to find strategies to prevent firearm suicides: the largest number of gun deaths in the United States. 

It’s not every day that a long-time leader in the gun community and a physician devoted to preventing gun deaths and injuries work across the same table. When reaching across the divide, initial anxiety can give way to trust and ultimately collaborative problem-solving.

We put our preconceived notions aside and examined the data and research on firearm suicides, including the risk factors and suicide rates within different high-risk demographic groups, including Black youth, Indigenous communities and the LGBTQ+ community.

Suicide deaths by firearm or any other method are not inevitable. Suicidal ideation and periods of acute crisis are often short. Safe practices and well-constructed interventions can and do save lives. 

That’s why we have joined together to catalyze action on firearm suicide prevention to highlight immediate steps community leaders can take to increase understanding and awareness about firearm suicide and interventions that work, including these from the Convergence Dialogue: 

  • Increasing and expanding funding of programs dedicated to preventing firearm suicides and supporting partnerships on gun-related issues to build understanding and reach vulnerable populations effectively. 
  • Increasing and expanding firearm suicide prevention research to better understand suicide prevention strategies via partnerships with scientists, clinicians, consumers of mental health services and gun owner-aligned groups. 
  • Identifying channels to deliver and amplify education and training on suicide prevention and lethal means to a broad array of groups, including faith communities, neighborhood groups, affinity groups and especially spaces utilized by gun owners.
  • Highlighting current work by firearms groups to promote and expand the reach and scope of their suicide prevention efforts, including safer in-home storage and temporary out-of-home storage during a crisis.Gun owners, gun rights groups and the gun industry are essential partners in this work and must be included in crafting solutions and serving as credible messengers to increase and normalize safety practices.

There are also existing organizations that utilize promising models to prevent firearm suicide, including: 

  • Lock to Live provides information to gun owners on emergency gun storage options between those at-risk and lethal means during a crisis.
  • Walk the Talk America works with gun manufacturers to make mental health assessment tools easily accessible. Counseling on Access to Lethal Means provides mental health and medical professionals training programs to help identify suicide risk factors and interventions in at-risk populations, so gun owners don’t forego treatment. 
  • The Overwatch Projectworks to make it easier for veterans to talk about suicide and mental health. Other programs that reach at-risk populations include The Trevor Project, which works within the LGBTQ+ community, as well as Celebrating Life Suicide Surveillance System raises awareness about suicide risks in Native American communities.

Although disagreements remain, the two of us now have a constructive relationship, effectively opening doors to reach new audiences, speak on panels and collaborate in preventing firearm suicide. As unlikely allies, we call on everyone to join the conversation and take action. We can save lives together.

Emmy Betz, MD, MPH, is an emergency physician and researcher at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, where she directs the Firearm Injury Prevention Initiative. She also co-founded the Colorado Firearm Safety Coalition and gave a TEDx talk on firearm suicide prevention. This piece reflects her views, not those of her employers. Follow her on Twitter: @EmmyBetz

Rob Pincus is executive vice president of 2AO (Second Amendment Organization). He is an advocate for responsible gun ownership, the executive director of Personal Defense Network, author and entrepreneur with over 20 years of experience in the gun industry and a lifetime as a shooter. Follow him on Twitter:  @PincusRob

Betz and Pincus were participants in the Convergence Dialogue on Guns & Suicide Prevention from the Convergence Center for Policy Resolution, a nonpartisan organization that convenes leaders and experts across ideological and sectoral divides working on issues including firearms and suicide. The group’s report includes gun safety strategies for community leaders.

The authors’ views are their own and do not necessarily reflect those of their affiliations.

Tags civil rights Emmy Betz Firearms gun deaths Guns Public health Rob Pincus Second Amendment Suicide

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