Frequently Asked Questions

 

Why is it important to talk about firearms when discussing suicide prevention?

Firearm suicides make up 3 out of every 5 gun deaths, and firearms are used in half of all suicide deaths. A suicide attempt with a firearm is almost always deadly. Reducing access to firearms prevents firearm suicides.

 

Does having a gun make a person more suicidal?

No, firearm access does not make a person more suicidal, but firearm access does increase the risk that an individual will die by suicide if they attempt. Suicide attempts with firearms are nearly always lethal, whereas attempts with the other most commonly used methods are lethal less than 3% of the time.

 

What does “limiting access to lethal means” mean?

Lethal means are objects or methods that can be used to attempt suicide. Limiting access to lethal means, also known as means reduction or means restriction, is the act of putting time and space between someone who may attempt suicide and lethal methods, such as firearms.

 

If you reduce a person’s access to firearms, won’t they just use other means to attempt suicide?

Research shows that few people substitute a different method for suicide if their preferred method is not available. That said, even if a person attempts suicide using other means, they are much more likely to survive their attempt because other methods are far less lethal and may provide more opportunity for a change of mind or rescue as compared to firearms. It’s also important to note that 90% of people who attempt suicide (or more) do not eventually go on to die by suicide.

 

Isn’t suicide just an issue of mental illness? Why are you talking about guns?

There is no one single cause of suicide and while mental illness is a risk factor for suicide, not everyone who is suicidal or dies by suicide has a mental illness. It is estimated that more than half of all suicide decendents did not have a known mental health diagnosis at the time of their death. People who die by firearm suicide are even less likely to have a diagnosis. Research also has found that mental illness was only weakly correlated with suicidal thoughts and behavior.

Additionally, suicidal thoughts and behaviors often fluctuate over time. They are often prompted by difficult life situations which themselves may change over time. Such life stressors include relationship problems or rejection, financial and housing instability such as job loss or eviction, criminal/legal troubles, death of a loved one, serious illness, trauma, physical or sexual abuse, family violence or distress/dysfunction, persecution, and other recent or impending crises.

Ensuring that someone doesn’t have access to a firearm during a potential suicidal crisis, regardless of mental illness, can often be the difference between life and death.

 

If people want to attempt suicide, that’s their right – so why should we try stopping them?

Most people who attempt suicide do so in the middle of a crisis, typically  feeling hopeless and struggling to find another way out. They may be in need of treatment, for example for depression or alcohol or substance use. Limiting access to firearms gives people a greater chance of surviving a suicidal crisis. If suicide can be averted and resources and treatment accessed, things can look very different when the crisis passes. Most people are grateful for still being alive.

Suicide prevention and intervention create opportunities to access resources and treatment, build connections, and explore other options that may be difficult to see in the midst of suffering. Studies show that that at least 90% of people who attempt suicide do not eventually go on to die by suicide. In other words, most people choose to live.

 

Shouldn’t we be worried about other means of suicide?

Yes, but firearms are the most lethal means and in the United States, addressing access to firearms will have the largest impact in terms of reducing overall rates of suicide.

If you or a family member or friend may be at risk for suicide, it is a good idea to reduce access to firearms and other methods the person may be considering; if you are unsure, call a crisis line or check out Lock to Live for guidance. If you have children or teenagers in your home, it is advised to lock up all firearms and ammunition as well as other risky items like medications — even if they aren’t suicidal.

 

Does reducing access to lethal means work?

An international panel of experts concluded that limiting access to lethal means was one of just two interventions with strong evidence of reducing suicide rates. Research from across the world has found reducing access to lethal means is an effective suicide prevention strategy.

  • Austria: Austria’s enactment of stronger gun laws resulted in a significant decrease in suicides among women ages 20-64 and men older than 20. The laws included universal background checks, safer storage regulations, a three-day waiting period, and age requirements for firearm purchases.
  • Denmark: Restricting the availability of toxic domestic gas and barbiturates in Denmark were associated with a 55% decrease in the suicide rate.
  • Israel: When the Israeli Defense Force changed its policy requiring soldiers to leave their firearms on base during their weekend leave, the soldiers’ overall suicide rate decreased by 40%.
  • Sri Lanka: Since the 1960s, the most common suicide method in Sri Lanka has been pesticide poisoning. In the 1990s, Sri Lanka banned the most toxic pesticides, which was associated with a 50% reduction in the country’s suicide rate.
  • United Kingdom: Prior to 1960, the leading suicide method in the United Kingtom was poisoning by gas inhalation. When the percentage of carbon monoxide was decreased in the domestic gas supply, making it less toxic and deadly, the overall suicide rate decreased 30%.

 

Why should we be limiting access to firearms when other countries have higher suicide rates and they don’t have guns there?

The most commonly used suicide method varies across the world, and means safety should be tailored to focus on the methods that are commonly used, highly lethal, and generally accessible in that location. For example, if jumping from a tall bridge is common and very deadly in a particular location, that community may focus on constructing bridge safety barriers. If a certain medicine is commonly used with lethal or damaging outcomes, tightening controls on access to that medication is an advisable strategy for that community. Addressing access to the most lethal commonly-used means for a particular location is an effective way to reduce suicide rates there.

In the United States, firearms are: 1) the most commonly used suicide method (accounting for half of all suicide deaths), 2) the deadliest suicide attempt method, and 3) easily accessible. Therefore, suicide prevention in the United States must focus on firearms.

 

Who recommends limiting access to lethal means as a suicide prevention strategy? What are their recommendations?

This page was last updated on August 13, 2019.