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Gun suicides: America's unseen public health crisis

In an opinion piece published in The Hill, distinguished professor of health policy and management Dr. Jonathan Fielding addresses gun suicides. In 2017, 60 percent of the nearly 40,000 gun deaths in the United States were suicides.

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Date: 
Friday, October 11, 2019
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written by Dr. Jonathan Fielding

The numbers confirm what we already know: We’re facing an increasing epidemic of gun deaths in America. 2017 was the most dangerous year yet: U.S. firearm deaths reached 39,773, their highest level in 40 years, increasing 16 percent from 2014. The overall number of gun deaths is often in the news, but the stark surprise for many will be that 60 percent of those nearly 40,000 gun deaths were suicides, 23,854. 

Though suicides are America’s largest firearm-related, public health problem, they’re not the most chronicled. That distinction belongs to homicides, which represented 36.5 percent (14,542) of total gun deaths. Accidental firearm discharges, shooting by law enforcement and mass shootings making up the remainder.

Tragically, our gun suicide rate is 10 times that of other high-income countries, and while we account for about 4 percent of the world’s population, we have 35 percent of the world’s gun suicides. Guns are used in 51 percent of American suicide deaths and suicide rates are higher in states with higher per-capita rates of gun ownership. Most suicide attempts are impulse driven in crises. In 90 percent of suicide attempts, survivors do not go on to die by suicide, but having access to a gun makes the equation deadly; 85 percent of gun suicide attempts end fatally, while less than 5 percent of non-firearm suicide attempts do. Firearms are the most lethal means of suicide in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

 

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