Firearm suicide is gun violence
When we talk about gun violence in our state and in our country, we often talk about the mass shootings that devastate our communities all too regularly. But alongside these national tragedies are the daily tragedies of firearm suicides, which account for the vast majority of gun deaths in Washington State.
On average, someone dies by suicide every eight hours in Washington State and almost half of them use a firearm. If we are to reduce the level of gun violence in Washington State, we must tackle the challenge of suicide prevention head-on.
Nationally, suicide rates are on the rise and Washington State has rates above the national average. Many believe that suicide is underreported because of the related stigma. The two strongest risk factors of suicide are mental illness and substance abuse. However, many populations are disproportionately affected by suicide. Such as:
- Men are more than six times as likely to die than women by suicide with a firearm. In Washington State, the most at risk of group for suicide are males over 50 living in Eastern Washington.
- Veterans are at higher risk of suicide compared to the general population of Washington residents.
- Suicide is the second leading cause of death in our youth and young adults (ages 10-34) and LGBTQ youth have higher rates of suicide attempts than the general population.
- A young Native American commits suicide with a gun every six days in the United States.
- Access to a firearm triples the risk of death by suicide.
Taking a Public Health Approach to Suicide Prevention
The causes of suicide are as varied as the solutions. Washington State is demonstrating how approaching firearm suicide as a public health challenge can revolutionize the approach to this complex challenge. In addition to the creation of the Statewide Plan for Suicide Prevention, Washington Governor Jay Inslee issued an executive order requiring state agencies to implement the Statewide Plan’s recommendations, targeting the most affected communities.
The renewed energy around suicide prevention led to legislation that created the Safer Homes Task Force in 2016. The Alliance for Gun Responsibility is proud to be among the diverse group of partners and advocates that came together to help shape both the Statewide Plan for Suicide Prevention and the 2016 legislation.
Research has shown suicide acts are often impulsive and fleeting. Ninety percent of individuals who attempt suicide do not go on to die by suicide. If someone in crisis can’t access lethal means, we have a chance to save their life. Other laws that help keep guns out of the hands of those in crisis include:
- ERPOs – Extreme Risk Protection Orders empower families and law enforcement to temporarily reduce access to guns by individuals at an elevated risk of harming themselves.
- Safe Storage – With the passage of Initiative 1639 in 2018, Washington voters incentivized safe storage by creating criminal liability, depending on the severity of the incident, if a child or other prohibited person accesses and uses an unsecurely stored firearm to hurt themselves or someone else.
- Waiting Periods – I-1639 also mandated a 10-day waiting period for assault rifles, to match the existing law for handguns. This provides a much-needed window for an individual to get the help that he or she needs.