Reducing Gun Violence: An Unusual New Partnership

By Kate Hovde

AFSP_logo NSSF_LogoGun-related violence is a significant public health issue in the U.S.: in 2014, the latest year for which data are available, more than 33,000 people died of gunshot wounds and over 81,000 people were injured by firearms.1 On a yearly basis, gunshot wounds are now responsible for the deaths of as many people as car crashes.2

Policy discussions around gun violence, meantime, tend to be both extreme and contentious. As noted by Susan Sorenson, an expert at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy and Practice, the debate often devolves into an over-simplified contrast between “good guys” and “bad guys” (see her article here).

Which is why a partnership announced last week between the National Shooting Sports Foundation and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is both unusual and encouraging.

As it happens, over 60% of gun fatalities nationally are suicides,3 a fact which does not fit easily into a “good guy/bad guy” dichotomy. Suicide is usually accompanied by depression or other mental illness, but when undertaken with a gun, is usually fatal. The partnership between the two organizations will focus on educating gun sellers, owners, and family members about risk factors associated with suicide and mental illness, and promote the safe storage of guns. Keeping guns locked and unloaded with ammunition locked up separately is associated with a lower risk of suicide and accidental injury for children and teens.4 Increased awareness of risk factors associated with suicide, in turn, may encourage individuals and/or family members to seek professional help and/or temporarily remove a gun from the house.

Will the campaign make a difference? That remains to be seen. Are there other ways to help in the meantime? Definitely. For example, despite studies showing that a doctor’s discussion of gun risk and safe storage can increase the practice of safe storage,5 laws prohibiting physicians from asking patients about guns in the house exist in several states. Those interested in advocating for removing such physician “gag laws” can find out more at Everytown for Gun Safety and American Academy of Pediatrics. Donors can also learn more about suicide prevention strategies more broadly at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s website.

Meantime, the campaign by the National Shooting Sports Foundation and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is an encouraging step towards addressing this public health issue in a collaborative and sensible way.

1 CDC. For a closer examination of gun violence in the country, see FiveThirtyEight. In addition, the nonfatal injury estimate is uncertain; nonfatal injury reports are based on surveys of a small number of U.S. hospitals. Given this uncertainty, it is unclear whether nonfatal gun violence has increased or decreased in the past decade. The sources that exist are divergent and have considerable data limitations.

2 CDC data reported in the Washington Post

3 See: The Epidemiology of Firearm Violence in the Twenty-First Century United States

4 See: Gun Storage Practices and Risk of Youth Suicide and Unintentional Firearm Injuries

5 See: Improving Firearm Storage Habits: Impact of Brief Office Counseling by Family Physicians