The researchers at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) and New York State Psychiatric Institute (NYSPI) have delved into the burning issue of increased firearm suicide rate in the United States. In a new study, the researchers compared the firearm ownership legislation and its link to firearm suicide rates from countries across the world and brought forward recommendations for the US, including drafting legislation, using smart gun technology, spreading awareness and evaluating effectiveness of interventions.
Surprisingly, limiting firearm availability is effective in restricting the firearm suicide rates in other countries but similar measures do not help improve situation in the US. For this very purpose, the recommendations discuss about approaches to limit the use of already purchased firearms in the hands of at-risk individuals. The researchers have called on the public health and legislation stakeholders to devise mechanisms to put a halt to firearm suicide rate.
In recent times, mass shootings have made flashy headlines in the US which claimed many innocent lives. Often the attacker is identified as a mentally unstable person who ends up either behind bars or committing suicide. After such tragic incidences, one can’t help but question the firearm ownership laws of the country. While the laws need urgent revision, it is important to track the mental health status of the owner of firearms. In this context, this significant study has surfaced at the right time which was also published by the American Journal of Psychiatry, recently.
The study has highlighted the role of targeted legislation, making use of smart gun technology and ensuring public education for safe firearm ownership in the country. While the statistical collection of suicide numbers requires improvement, the annual rate is on a consistent rise. On an average, 117 Americans commit suicide per day and each year over 42,000 lives are cut short due to suicide.
Researchers of this study have found that in year 2014 alone, 33,500 firearms deaths were reported and over 21,000 of them accounted for suicide cases.
Interestingly, the use of gun to commit suicide accounts for 49.9% cases. Being lethal, suicide attempts through gun shots are often successful. As life stressors continue to challenge us daily, many of us manage finding a balance in life. On the contrary, many of us struggle to fight off the challenges and eventually, they find ending their lives as an easy exit. These troubled minds see life from a filter which shows the future bleak and instigates the person to slam the door in the face of life, once and for all.
In the wake of increasing gun violence casualties in the country, President Obama announced new actions to protect American communities from such harm. These steps were further elaborated by Vice President Biden in June, following the Orlando attack. Harmonized in their approach, both addresses claimed that Obama administration was formulating a framework to combat this menace. The president also showed unwavering commitment to boosting the development of smart gun technology. This, in turn, would encourage the use of smart guns amongst masses.
If we can set it up so you can’t unlock your phone unless you’ve got the right fingerprint, why can’t we do the same thing for our guns? If a child can’t open a bottle of aspirin, we should make sure that they can’t pull a trigger on a gun.
–President Barack Obama
The use of personalized guns will help reduce the use of guns by unauthorized people. For instance, if the gun is owned by Mr “X”, no one besides Mr “X” will be able to use the gun.
Another crucial consideration was doing a background check on people at the time of gun purchase. Maintaining mental health records of people is of utmost important in this regard. If this can be effectively streamlined, people can be prohibited from buying guns before they gain access to harm themselves or others. $500 million investment had also been introduced to increase mental health coverage in the Affordable Care Act to help people who can later develop severe problems as suicide ideation or apathy.
Furthermore, encouraging leadership at federal and state level to revise legislation and weapon ownership policies is just the first step in the right direction. Urgent implementation is warranted to yield results as about 38% households in the US possess ownership of at least one firearm which makes it easily accessible to many mentally vulnerable individuals.
Signifying this correlation further, it was found that from year 2000 to year 2002, in 15 states, the ownership of firearms was as high as 47% households which accounted for double the rate of suicides when compared to states with the lowest gun ownership rate of 15%. This overall difference was majorly contributed by firearms suicides which compared 9,769 with 2,606 firearm suicides.
The measures taken during the purchase of a weapon greatly influence the suicide rates. For instances, processes such as purchasing permits, waiting periods, gun violence restriction orders, background checks, safe storage and registration guidelines have found to lower the suicide rates.
In addition to making use of smart guns, the study has also highlighted the essential role of public education in storing the weapon. These precautions include storing the gun at a safe place, keep it unloaded and most importantly identifying family members at risk of exploiting the weapon.
J John Mann, MD, CUMC said that the significance of this research cannot be undermined and implementation and proper monitoring is warranted to reach results. He concluded by saying, “Such program evaluation and lifting the ban on federal funding of research on firearm violence will help improve efforts to reduce firearm suicide mortality.”