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More than 20,000 of the 33,000 firearm deaths each year in the United States are suicides. Half of all suicides use a gun. The national firearm suicide rate has climbed by 14 percent since 2006 and suicide is the second leading cause of death for adolescents and young adults. Now, more than ever, we have an opportunity to come together and confront the widespread and pervasive gun violence that is destroying families and communities across the country. However, we cannot make meaningful progress in reducing gun violence if suicide is not a significant focus of prevention efforts and if the link between guns and suicide is not addressed.
The good news is there are clear steps we can take to significantly improve the above statistics. Progress made on other public health issues has required sustained, comprehensive efforts. Like the reduction of smoking, motor vehicle deaths, and unintentional poisoning, we can have a dramatic effect on firearm suicide by employing a multifaceted approach in collaboration with diverse, committed partners. Applying this same focus and determination to reducing deaths caused by guns is critical and possible. We recommend the following steps:
EXPAND EFFORTS TO EDUCATE THE PUBLIC
Americans believe a gun in the home makes them safer. This belief is contrary to evidence that demonstrates a gun in the home is more likely to harm a member of the household than be used to stop or prevent a crime. Education efforts focused on overcoming the established myth by providing credible information to families could dramatically improve safety.
IMPROVE DATA AND GROW EVIDENCE BASE
Our ability to effectively prevent gun violence depends on our understanding of how and why it occurs, as well as what interventions work, for whom, and in what circumstances. Well-designed interventions can make a difference in reducing gun violence. However, we need to base our policy efforts on the best available evidence to achieve large-scale and lasting change.
Although available research clearly demonstrates access to a gun increases risk for suicide, researchers are hampered by significant limitations on how gun-related information is collected and analyzed. A critical need exists for timely, accurate data about firearm deaths and injuries.
BUILD INNOVATIVE PARTNERSHIPS
Firearm-related suicide is too big a problem to be left to public health experts alone. Instead, it requires collaborating strategically across a wide range of public and private fields and aligning prevention of firearm suicide with a broader agenda. Schools, law enforcement personnel, and primary care providers are all potential partners in preventing firearm suicides, among many others.
We must bring a sense of focus and renewed urgency to this issue. Long-term commitments to supply the necessary support and resources are imperative to bringing about real change and dramatically reducing gun deaths and injuries.
* * *
The challenges facing us are not insurmountable. Suicide must be included in the gun violence prevention discourse, as must education on the tripartite roles of impulsivity, lethality, and availability in suicide. We owe it to current and future Americans to urgently address—and ultimately reverse—the current upward trend in suicide deaths. The best news is that this is achievable, and the above are our marching orders.
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