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Agree, at least, to safe gun storage

Published August 31. 2014 4:00AM

Americans are twice as likely to kill themselves with a gun than be murdered with a gun used by someone else.

And they are four or five times more likely to use a gun to kill themselves if they live in a gun friendly state like Alaska, Wyoming, Montana or Idaho than in a state with strict gun laws like New Jersey, New York or Connecticut.

The gun suicide rates in the three northeastern states are 1.6 per 100,000 residents in New Jersey, 2.6 in New York and 2.9 in Connecticut while the rates in the four western states range from 11 to 15 per 100,000.

These are among the findings in a study of 18,602 suicides with guns in 44 states and 9,655 murders with guns in 49 states in 2012. That's an average of 50 gun deaths by suicide and 26 by homicide every day. The study was conducted by an investigate unit of the Carnegie Corporation and the John S. Knight Foundation and reported by The Connecticut Mirror.

The study also determined firearm suicides in the 44 states made up 51 percent of all the 35,831 suicides in those states in 2012. Matthew Miller, a suicide specialist at Harvard's Injury Control Research Center, said suicide rates by gun have been higher than murder rates by other means for as long as he can remember. This is because people naturally choose a method of suicide by the method's accessibility and people with guns in their homes are more likely, therefore, to choose a gun.

Laws requiring guns to be stored securely or equipped with safety locks are common in the northeast but just about nonexistent in the far western states. The only gun control law we could find in the four western states with the highest gun suicide rates was a Wyoming law requiring non-residents to have a state permit to carry a gun, either openly or concealed. Residents do not have to have a permit.

Many in these states see any law regulating guns as a threat to their constitutional right to bear arms. The National Rifle Association has long advocated gun safety in theory but it balks at any legal attempt to require safety locks on weapons or safe storage of guns in the home as a first step toward gun control.

"Everyone knows that firearms must be stored safely but most Americans feel that it is not the government's business to dictate how people store things in their houses," according to the NRA. This view of "most Americans" was not supported by data nor by all the polls we have seen, which favor safe storage laws by healthy margins.

There are those who cite anecdotal evidence that easy access to bedside firearms has saved countless lives of innocents whose homes have been invaded by thieves and other marauders. The truth is, an accessible gun is far more likely to be used by a child or a person suffering from a buildup of depression and internal despair, than by someone defending his home and family, according to Cathy Barber, founder of a Harvard research group that studies access to various means of suicide.

Suicides are often impulsive, rather than planned. Nearly half of those who survived suicide attempts have testified they tried to kill themselves within 10 minutes of first considering it. It is, therefore, logical that these same individuals would choose the easiest means available.

"You don't want that person to have access to something that could really quickly kill them," said Ms. Barber. "You want to try to build some delay in them being able to get their hands on something that could kill them."

Stricter gun safety laws result in fewer people impulsively killing themselves with guns. Such laws are not an attack on the Second Amendment, they are sensible health policy.

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