I am aware that it is 2016 and reasonable discussion about guns may be off the table until November 9. But hope springs eternal. Let’s take a stab at it.
First let’s look at some numbers. In 2014 there were 33,599 gun deaths in the United States. That’s 10.54 per 100,000 people.
Of those deaths, 10,945 were homicides, accounting for 60 percent of homicides from all methods. But, what about the remaining 21,334 gun deaths?
Suicide. Suicide is among the top ten causes of death for all age groups from 10 to 64. It is the third leading cause of death for children aged 10-14, for goodness sake. Take a look at the chart below provided by the CDC to get an idea of the scope of the suicide problem (in green) in the U.S.
My goal today is not to diminish the importance of ending homicide and mass shootings. It’s not even to advocate for, or against, gun control. Instead, I want to highlight the fact that every day in this country, 58 people shoot themselves to death. Many of them are young and living in the pit of a disorder that clouds their ability to see that things can get better.
In the years 2009-2012, 7.6 percent of Americans over age 12 had depression while nearly three percent had severe depressive symptoms. Depression is a common disease. We get better at treating it every day as our understanding of neurotransmitters, hormones and genetics grows
Indeed, suicide is an irreversible solution to an often reversible problem.
This is where the role of guns becomes problematic. A study conducted by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that while the overall success rate of a suicide attempts is only nine percent, suicide by gun is successful 85 percent of the time
The second most successful form is suffocation, which is successful 69 percent of the time. Other methods are extremely ineffective. The popular method of death by drug overdose is successful a mere two percent of the time. Cutting or piercing is only successful one percent of the time.
This raises some important questions. Would a suicidal individual without access to a gun resort to a less lethal method? Would he still be successful? Does use of a gun indicate a greater determination to succeed? Would those who attempt suicide with less lethal methods opt for a gun if one were available?
We don’t know the answer to those questions for one simple reason. There isn’t good research on the topic. Back in 1996 the National Rifle Association accused the CDC of bias in their research on guns as a public health hazard. I’m not saying they didn’t have an agenda in their research at that time. But clearly the NRA also had an agenda. It resulted in Congress removing funding for gun research from all CDC budgets since that time.
Rather than directing the CDC to take measures to ensure that confirmation bias was not at play in their research – such as recruiting multiple groups to evaluate study design and employing outside agencies to actually perform the research – Congress cut off the funding for research completely.
A trickle down effect saw gun research from other institutions come to a screeching halt. Fortunately the folks at Harvard have put together a nice primer for us. It gives us some idea of the importance of guns in suicide, but there are most certainly holes in our understanding of the relationship.
After the mass shooting in Sandy Hook, President Obama directed the CDC to ramp up research on gun violence. But no funding from Congress has been forthcoming, so here we sit, without much useful data. And no basis for reasoned discourse.
Suicide by gun is a significant public health problem with many unanswered questions. But an outside organization - a powerful lobbying force - has cut off much of our ability to get the facts for two decades. Will research show that availability of guns is responsible for many suicides? I don’t know, and neither do you. But it shouldn’t stop us from finding out. We shouldn’t fear facts. Those who fear facts have an agenda. It probably involves money.
Amy Rogers MD is not a practicing physician and nothing written here should be taken as medical advice from either Amy or AssetBuilder. Medical decisions should be made with care in consultation with your health care provider.