To reduce suicide by gun, we must reduce access to handguns

BRATTLEBORO — Sixty percent of all gun deaths in the United States are suicides. In Vermont, 100 people a year - mostly males and mostly impulsively - kill themselves, two per week, week after week.

They typically use the most lethal weapon, a handgun, which provides them with barely a chance of survival.

Governor Phil Scott recently signed into law some meaningful additions to gun legislation, enhanced background checks, banning bump stocks and large-capacity magazines, and raising the purchase age for lethal weapons to 21.

All these interventions might help decrease mass shootings, which is a good thing, but they will have little to no impact on suicides.

By the way, it was disappointing that none of our congressional delegation were present at the signing, but it is perhaps understandable, given they all receive some degree of positive adulation from the NRA.

For Vermont - and, for that matter, the United States - to decrease the suicide rate, we have to reduce access to handguns.

We know from other countries that the most effective way to reduce the suicide rate is to reduce access to the preferred lethal method. Australia decreased fatal drug overdoses by reducing access to barbiturates, and Great Britain also had significant success decreasing the number of suicides by carbon monoxide poisoning by removing carbon, this lethal product, from the coal gas that was being used for cooking in homes.

Serious suicide attempts are typically impulsive acts involving a lethal method. We know from research that people who survive a serious attempt typically do not repeat the act.

Given how difficult it is to stop impulsivity, if we have any interest in lowering the completed suicide rate, we need to remove lethal methods. In this society this means decreasing the number of guns - especially handguns.

Surely, that is not very much to ask, especially given that an estimated 265 million guns are currently available to 242 million adults.

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