Study examines how access to firearms affects suicide rates

We look at why it’s important to look beyond the headlines and read the context.

DENVER — A recently published article Kaiser Family Foundation Study examines access to firearms and its impact on suicide rates.

The study states that “suicides account for more than half of all firearm deaths (54%) and more than half of all suicides involve a firearm (53%)”.

He also said that twice as many suicides involving a firearm occur in states with the fewest gun laws compared to states with the most laws.

The study broke it down by firearms provisions, writing:

“We grouped states into three categories based on the number of firearms provisions. States with the fewest number of firearms provisions (17 states) had an average of six provisions and were placed in the “least” category; states with a moderate number of gun laws (16 states) had an average of 19 provisions and were placed in the “moderate” category; and states with the most gun laws (17 states) had an average of 61 provisions and were placed in the “most” firearms provisions category.”

The study itself, however, points out that this does not mean a direct correlation. Colorado is an example.

Colorado is 7th in the nation for suicide rates, but ranks in the top 20 for gun rules and regulations, with the Kaiser study counting 30 gun provisions.

The first thing that comes to mind for two experts is the geography of the state.

Dr. Michael Allen with the Rocky Mountain Crisis Partners said Colorado is complicated, especially as an intermountain western state, with so many different urban and rural communities.

“Higher suicide rates in these rural and border communities,” said Vincent Atchity with Mental Health Colorado“There can be feelings of isolation and disconnection.”

As well as barriers to access to care.

Culture is also a factor.

“A kind of robust individualistic culture,” Dr. Allen said, “where people at least feel like they should take care of themselves.”

“Guns have been around, have been a part of people’s lives for generations,” Atchity said. “Any recent gun legislation over the past decade has had little impact on the availability of guns in communities that have had guns in families for generations.”

These are all factors as to why Colorado falls short of the trend.

“We might start to see a correlation around extreme risk protection orders,” Dr. Allen said.

But where firearms become a risk factor is how deadly they can be.

“Part of the conversation,” Atchity said.

Experts said that to help find a solution, all factors must be considered.

The reason Colorado’s suicide rate has always been so high is due to many factors, including the stigma that prevents people from getting help or finding help in time. Colorado is working on increasing resources, but it’s a work in progress.

It also involves talking about access to guns, rules and programs that could help protect people, and talking about gun safety before a time of crisis.

A reminder – there is always help available via Colorado Crisis Services.

That number is 844-493-8255 or you can text the word “talk” to 38255.

There is also a new National Mental Health Helpline that you can call.

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Denise W. Whigham