Content note: This post concerns suicide and may be triggering to some readers.
We keep reading and reading and reading about the number of people guns are killing in America.
Sunday night’s attack in Las Vegas, in which one man broke two windows 32-floors high and rained bullets upon a crowd of 22,000 using a room full of guns that had been rigged to fire like automatic weapons, ignited the conversation. Again.
Fifty-nine people died – the biggest mass shooting in modern American history – for us to read about the number of people guns are killing in America and what might be done to stop it.
In 2015, that number was 36,252. In 2014, it was 33,594. In 2013, it was 33,636.
What we don’t read about is the number of these deaths that are suicides.
Of the 36,252 people who died by firearms in 2015 in the US, 12,979 of these deaths were homicides, according to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Almost double this number – 22,018 of these deaths – were suicides using a firearm.
In 2014, the number of suicides with a gun was 21,386 compared to 11,008 homicides. In 2013, it was 21,175, compared to 11,208.
The numbers show one clear truth: the majority of gun deaths in America are suicides.
And that’s one more argument – one we rarely ever hear about – for tougher laws around gun control.
First, we’ll look to Australia.
The number of suicides by firearms in Australia declined drastically in the years following the 1996 gun buyback that came after the Port Arthur Massacre.
According to research conducted by the Australian National University and the Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario, Canada, firearm suicides in Australia dropped from 2.2 per 100,000 people in 1995 to 0.8 per 100,000 in 2006. A drop of 65 per cent.
But what about suicides by other methods? What about suicide trends in general?
Numbers show us that in that same time period – between 1996 and 2006 – the rate of suicide fell by 27 per cent in general – something that could be put to other factors: Way of life, improving economy, better health outcomes, the list goes on.
There was also an up-kick in the number of non-firearm suicides between 1997 and 2000 – did that mean people had given up their guns, just to take their lives using alternative methods?
These researchers, lead by Andrew Leigh in Australia and Christine Neill in Canada, wanted an answer: did the gun buyback really make a difference?
“Our results show that the jump [in the number of non-firearm suicides in the period 1997-2000] occurred primarily in the states where the fewest guns were handed in, and where the gun buyback would have been expected to have the least effect,” the report concludes.