Reps Beyer and Napolitano: It's suicide prevention month. Half of suicides are committed with a gun.9/13/16
Originally published in The Hill
This summer Americans in communities across the country have been having conversations about gun violence. Both of us work on this problem every week, and we were proud to take part in the sit-in on the House floor to demand action.
As we talk about gun violence, the conversation tends to focus on homicides and mass shootings. Yet, we forget the larger number of victims we almost never talk about: gun suicides.
It is well-reported that over 32,000 Americans die every year as the result of gun violence. Did you know that two-thirds of those - almost 20,000 individuals – were suicides?
This is also gun violence in America.
Suicide is often conveniently overlooked in the debate on gun safety, but there are steps that we can and must take to help prevent it, and we think that September, nationally recognized as Suicide Prevention Month, is an appropriate time to highlight some of these.
We should expand our system of background checks. States, like California, with universal background checks have seen a large decrease in the numbers of suicides. Passing this type of requirement at the federal level would place a simple yet effective barrier in the way of a potential suicide.
We could follow the lead of California and implement laws empowering family members to petition judges for gun violence restraining orders to temporarily block the purchase of a firearm to individuals who pose a threat to themselves or others. Many suicide victims had families who knew that they were in trouble, but were legally powerless to stop them.
We should allow the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to actually study gun violence to provide data on the causes and potential solutions to help reduce gun suicides. One such answer that might make a difference could be simply training gun store workers to identify cues for at-risk individuals. Another potential area of research to explore is the relationship between guns in the home and gun suicides. The American Medical Association has called gun violence in America a “public health crisis.” It’s beyond comprehension why the CDC is effectively prohibited from studying it.
We should mandate a short waiting period for gun purchases. This would both allow sufficient time for the completion of a background check and serve as a cooling off for people who face a time of crisis. States which have enacted waiting periods have cut their gun suicide rates in half.
We know that suicide is often impulsive. According to a Harvard University School of Public Health study, 71 percent of suicide attempts happen within one hour of making the decision. And anecdotally, in interviews following unsuccessful suicide attempts, individuals almost always regret it. Over a decade ago there was a story in New Yorker about interviews with people who jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge and survived – every one of them realized it was a mistake before they hit the water. But with a gun, there is no second chance.
With federal law we could make it a little bit harder for people to take their own lives, and we could do it at no cost. Enacting these simple proposals could prevent thousands of deaths each year – including a large number of veterans who served their country.
We can pass measures like these without false fears of confiscation, in a way that protects due process. The cynics like to say, “these are people who kill themselves, and if we keep them from getting a gun, they will just find another way.” We refuse to accept that, because people deserve better from their country and their elected leaders than a refusal to try.
There is strong evidence to show that the measures above are already reducing suicides in the states which have adopted them. By elevating gun safety through federal legislation we could make a huge dent in the national suicide rate, and save thousands of American lives per year.