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The Importance of Gun Safety to Reduce Suicide

Beth Hess - Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The suicide rate among youth has been going up. Suicide is now the second leading cause of death among teenagers, surpassing homicides, which dropped to third. There are theories about why there has been such an increase in youth suicides (social media, cyberbullying, increased isolation), but no solid conclusions. Nonetheless, there are a number of steps that caregivers can take to reduce the risk of suicide, such as being alert to warning signs, accessing mental health treatment, and providing youth with crisis resources such as hotlines and text-lines. Another strategy to prevent suicide is means restriction, in particular, restriction to firearms.

Firearms are the cause of 51% of suicide deaths. Firearms are particularly lethal – 90% of people who use a firearm in a suicide attempt die, whereas only 10% of people who use other means die. Moreover, more than 80% of children who die by suicide with a gun used a gun from their own home. Frequently, the decision to take one’s life is in response to a short-term crisis – if the means of suicide are not readily available, the crisis may pass.

For these reasons, it is particularly critical that caregivers restrict a child’s access to firearms. In fact, Maryland has a relevant law. It states that (with certain limited exceptions): “A person may not store or leave a loaded firearm in a location where the person knew or should have known that an unsupervised child would gain access to the firearm.” In this statute, a child is defined as someone under the age of 16. Even if your child is over the age of 16, preventing access to firearms, especially loaded firearms, is an important precaution.

There are a variety of suggestions to restrict a child’s access to firearms:
  • Store unloaded guns in a locked gun case, lock box or gun safe
  • Store ammunition in a separate location from a gun
  • Store the key to a lock in a safety deposit box
  • Store firearms with law enforcement
Even if your child does not appear depressed or suicidal, these are advisable precautions to follow. Although some youth who commit suicide have an identifiable mental health problem, others don’t. Some youth talk about wanting or planning to kill themselves or give other hints, but others don’t. While it is impossible to restrict all methods a child might use to try to take their own life, making firearms unavailable is a critical step.

 

 

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