Identifying state firearm policies that protect more than they harm requires scientific studies. Under the U.S. Constitution, states set firearm policies for their residents, not the federal government. Despite that fact, the National Rifle Association sponsored federal legislation in 1996 barring use of federal funds to support gun-related research. As federally funded research disappeared, gun-related deaths increased 17 percent. Federally funded research on auto safety, by contrast, has contributed to a 35 percent reduction in auto-related mortality, saving more than 10,000 lives annually. States and especially their youth could benefit from similar federal investment in research on firearm-related deaths. I analyzed U.S. Census data on gun-related suicide and gun rights ratings of all 50 states (from one to five) by an organization promoting gun ownership (gunstocarry.com). In the U.S., suicides (47,173 in 2017) outnumber homicides (19,510) more than two to one. Suicide is the second most common cause of death in 15-24 year olds and 60 percent of suicides (7,948 in 2017 among 15-24 year olds) are gun-related. Results showed that gun suicides decline consistently (correlation = 0.73, p = .0001) with increasing state restrictions on gun purchases and gun usage. Heavily urbanized states (e.g., California, New Jersey, New York) have the greatest restrictions on guns and the lowest rates of gun suicides (1.97 to 4.06 per 100,000). Rural states have the least restrictive gun laws and the highest rates of gun suicides (e.g., West Virginia, Wyoming and Montana with 13 to 15.54 per 100,000), a threefold higher risk than in urbanized states. Suicide attempts involving guns are 90 percent successful; involving poison are only four percent successful; involving jumping from high places are only 32 percent successful. According to a 2004 study, suicides dropped 8.3 percent in 18 states that adopted strict gun-lock rules in homes with children. Ninety percent of suicide attempters who survive never attempt suicide again. Anything that delays or prevents youth access to guns or forces them to use a less lethal way of killing oneself can reduce suicides. We need more research to identify state firearm policies that save more lives and better protect our youth from suicide than current policies do.

William McCarthy

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