Thursday, August 24, 2017

Gun sellers in New Hampshire try to decrease suicides by firearm with voluntary program

How do you reduce the number of suicides by firearms without infringing on Second Amendment rights? Gun dealers like New Hampshire outdoors-store manager John Yule have taken a novel approach by joining the New Hampshire Firearms Safety Coalition. The group encourages gun shops to display suicide-prevention materials and keep an eye out for shoppers who might be purchasing a gun for suicide. They say "their goal is to keep guns, the most common method of suicide, out of the hands of those they deem at risk," Shefali Luthra reports for Kaiser Health News. "We’re not trying to step on anyone’s toes or deny them any rights. [But] you can guide them, or suggest to them or talk them into a different approach," Yule told Luthra.

It's a problem worth studying. Suicide rates are higher in general in rural areas, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and suicide by firearms may be the cause of the disparity. When researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health analyzed suicide deaths in Maryland, Luthra reports that they found that "when gun-related suicides were excluded, there was no significant difference in rates between rural and urban areas."

The greater likelihood of suicide by firearm in rural areas may be partially due to the simple fact that people living in rural areas are more likely to own guns. That widespread support for gun rights in rural areas makes legal restrictions on gun purchases a tough sell, even if they're targeting customers with mental illness. Alan Morgan, executive director of the National Rural Health Association, told Luthra that "proposals for any government action related to firearms are politically loaded." That makes voluntary efforts like the one in New Hampshire much more likely to succeed. "With more barriers, a person’s impulse to kill oneself can pass, or they may use other means, such as pills, that have lower fatality rates. And, research shows, if an attempt is foiled, that person is ultimately less likely to die by self-harm," Luthra writes.

NHFSC Co-Chair Elaine Frank says the group's efforts are targeting the "low-hanging fruit," since most people who commit suicide by firearm own their guns for more than a week. Longer-term solutions would include more community education about suicide prevention and improving access to mental-health care.

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