To Reduce Suicide in the U.S., Regulate Guns

(The Bloomberg View) -- In its alarming new report on America’s fast-rising suicide rate, the Centers for Disease Control cites many pressures that might lead people to take their own lives: problems with relationships or work, substance abuse, money troubles, or housing insecurity. No doubt all such stresses can drive some people to the brink.

The report also offers several strategies to prevent suicide. States can promote employment and tackle housing shortages, for example, and health-care providers can offer treatment online and by phone. Employers, schools and communities can help people feel supported and unashamed to seek help. And everyone can become alert to warning signs. All such changes would reduce the suffering that leads to suicide.

But there’s another prevention strategy, and the CDC ignores it: stronger gun laws.

Suicide requires both motivation and means. In the U.S., to nobody’s surprise, firearms are the most commonly used method, accounting for 41 percent of suicides of people with known mental-health conditions, and 55 percent of those without, according to the CDC report. Suicide is very often an impulsive act, and a person who contemplates it can readily survive if no lethal weapon is at hand.

The experiences of Connecticut and Indiana prove the point. After those states passed “red-flag” gun laws, which enable police to seize firearms from people who are a risk to themselves or others, firearm suicide rates fell significantly, a recent study found.

In 2016, almost 45,000 people killed themselves in the U.S., a 30 percent increase since 1999. To be sure, states and communities should try harder to lift people out of despair. But limiting high-risk individuals’ access to guns would mitigate this epidemic all by itself.    

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