Preventing suicides by reducing access to guns

2 min read

The national debate about gun violence has focused on mass shootings and assault weapons, but statistics show that most gun deaths are suicides. A number of recent articles and interviews featured Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) experts commenting on the topic.

A February 13, 2013 New York Times article reported that nearly 20,000 of the 30,000 gun deaths in 2010 were suicides, according to the most recent figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The article also cited statistics from the Harvard Injury Control Research Center (HICRC)—that suicidal acts with guns are fatal 85% of the time, while those with pills are fatal in just 2% of cases.

Matthew Miller, HSPH associate professor of health policy and management and associate director of the HICRC, says that the chances of dying go way up when a gun is present because guns are so much more likely to be lethal. “If you use a gun,” he told the Times, “you usually don’t get a second chance.”

Catherine Barber, director of HICRC’s Means Matter campaign—a suicide prevention effort that focuses on the ways people attempt to take their own lives—was quoted on the common argument that even if a suicidal person doesn’t have access to a gun, he’ll find another way to kill himself. “Yes, many may find another method,” she said, “but will it kill them?”