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Guns deliver death: Suicides by firearm are far higher in states with lax gun laws

2019-09-12

U.S. suicide rates are at their highest level since World War II. Fourteen of every 100,000 Americans took their own lives in 2017, a 33% increase since 1999. This is a crisis.

Many are the reasons men and women take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them, leaving loved ones in wreckage in their wake. No quarter of society is immune. As the city knows too well, cab and livery drivers and police officers have in recent months and years killed themselves in frightening numbers. The need for them, and for anyone else in need, to have access to mental health services is vital.

But one dimension of suicide in America is far too infrequently addressed. That is, ease of access to firearms correlates powerfully with risk of self-harm.

New numbers breaking down rates by state show that American jurisdictions with the weakest gun laws and highest gun ownership numbers see the most suicides per capita, by far; Montana, Wyoming, Alaska and New Mexico and Idaho all register more than 22 suicides per 100,000, the vast majority of which are at the barrel of a gun.

States with strict firearm access laws like California, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey and New York all have rates less than half that, with the Empire State lowest in the nation with just 8.5 suicides, including two gun suicides, per 100,000 people.

Correlation is not causation. There are other factors at play. But New York has its share of economic agony, isolation, alcoholism and drug addiction. It suffers fewer suicides in part because it has fewer guns.