Research shows access to firearms increases suicide risk. But that doesn’t mean owning guns causes suicide. Instead, it means people having access to guns in their most vulnerable moments can prove fatal.
Gun ownership is higher in Nevada than the national average, and some experts say that fact alone goes a long way toward explaining the state’s historically high rate of suicide.
About 37.5 percent of Nevadans owned a gun in 2013, compared with 29 percent on average in the U.S., according to a 2015 Columbia University report published in the journal Injury Prevention.
Matthew Miller, a Harvard professor who has studied gun ownership’s link to suicide, said research has shown that access to a firearm increases suicide risk.
“It’s not just an association,” he said.
Guns used in most suicides
Firearms were used in 56 percent of suicides in Nevada in 2018, making shooting the most used means of death by suicide.
That probably explains why California isn’t in the western “suicide belt,” Miller said. There only about 20 percent of people are gun owners, according to the Columbia study.
Firearm-related suicide attempts tend to be rash decisions and are often fatal, Las Vegas psychiatrist Dr. Lesley Dickson said. “Because (a person) might have a gun in the drawer next to them, they can easily pull it out,” she said.
Gun enthusiasts also are aware of the risk of having a weapon handy at a time of crisis.
Las Vegas resident Michael Sodini, who owns the New Jersey-based firearm supplier Eagle Imports Inc., founded the nonprofit Walk the Talk America, which partnered with the GunVault company to create a new system that could take the weapons out of play during a crisis. The gun safe they developed lets a person put firearms inside and use an app to lock it for a set period — an hour, a day or a month. Even if the user changes their mind, the weapons remain in the lockbox until the time is up.
The group, which aims to “correct misconceptions about the roles that both the mental health system and firearms play in problems of gun violence, negligence and suicide.” Sodini says the safe and similar products are an alternative to legislation such as a bill passed in Colorado in April that allows family members and law enforcement to petition a court to temporarily seize the guns of someone deemed at risk of suicide.
“We hide in the shadows when it comes to our health,” he said. “We’re giving people a safe space in their house with these safes.”