Search Archives:

Custom Search

Monday, March 25, 2013

In the Gun Debate, Suicides Count

Gun suicide chart
It always happens with gun stats; no sooner are new numbers out than gun nuts immediately dismiss the bulk of them as suicides. Gun violence is gun violence, so logically it should make no difference. Yet, for people looking for a way to poke holes in arguments for saner gun regulations, suicide by firearm is some sort of special class of gun violence.

A great example of this is a post by the hopelessly dishonest John Hinderacker, written earlier this month. "New Study Finds Firearms Laws Do Nothing to Prevent Homicides" argues that once you rule out suicides, rates of gun violence is actually higher in states with fewer guns. It's actually a statistical tie, but math is no impediment to the seasoned, professional liar. The problem here should be obvious; you could just as easily argue that gun ownership does nothing to prevent crime. As pro-gun arguments go, Hinderacker's sucks.

But the main point is that you have to rule out suicides as real gun violence. "Most people -- most liberals, certainly -- would say that a person has a right to commit suicide if he is determined to do so," he writes. "If guns are the suicide weapon of choice, and it is easy to see why they are for most people, why should the state try to make its citizens use other, more difficult or painful means? On the other hand, some people undoubtedly do commit suicide on impulse who, if they had not had access to a gun or other effective means, may have gone on to live a happy or at least normal life. This is an argument for keeping guns away from those who are suicidally depressed, locking them up in your home, and so on. But those mental health issues are very different from the scare headlines on the basis of which activists... are trying to sell unconstitutional gun measures to the voters."

So conservatives are for assisted suicide now -- so long as the assistant is the gun industry.


We'll leave aside the fact that suicide prevention is in everyone's best interests for obvious reasons. The argument hinges on the idea that people who commit suicide will use other means. The numbers show this is not true. Suicide attempts are twenty times as likely to be fatal using a firearm than any other method. 85% of all attempted suicides by firearm succeed. And often murder and suicide are combined in the same act. "Some experts say mass shootings such as the one in which 20 first-graders and six adults were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in December can often be seen as extravagant suicides rather than homicidal rampages," reports the Washington Post. "And the young man behind that massacre killed himself before he could be apprehended. Preventing these killings, experts say, requires better treatment of mental health problems and limiting access to weapons."

Another study finds that anything that slows down access to firearms reduces suicide rates immensely. And that's across the board -- not just the rate of suicide by gun. "[S]imple things that can delay access to a gun, like mandatory background checks for all handgun purchases -- including private sales -- like those that would be required by a new bill recently passed by a Senate committee, can make a big difference in preventing suicide," reports Mother Jones. "States with such a requirement have a gun suicide rate 50 percent lower than states that don't, even when their non-gun suicide rates are about the same."

And Hinderacker's argument that we should only worry about keeping guns away from the "suicidally depressed" is BS. The Mother Jones piece tells us that "suicide is often an impulsive act, and one that people haven't given much thought. That's especially true in gun suicides, where the majority of victims don't have a documented serious mental illness. If some in a crisis simply can't access a gun quickly, they may not try suicide at all, or they may try a less-lethal means that offers more chance that they'll be saved. And most people who survive a suicide attempt don't go on to take their own lives at a later time."

So suicide prevention is a perfectly rational reason to restrict access to firearms. And restricting firearms is a proven method of suicide prevention. To argue, as gun apologists so often do, that suicides don't count because they can't be prevented is just wishful thinking on their part (and the sorts of things they wish for does not say good things about their character). Many suicides can be prevented by something so simple as making buyers wait a little longer for their brand new suicide machines. The background check doesn't actually have to prevent the person from buying the gun. All it has to do is slow down the process a bit.

Gun laws save lives. The numbers are impossible to argue with. Which is why gun industry apologists go to such great and dishonest lengths to dismiss so many of those numbers.


[chart from Mother Jones]

Get updates via Twitter