Burstein ’19 Proposes Fewer Guns Could Mean Fewer Suicides – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
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Burstein ’19 Proposes Fewer Guns Could Mean Fewer Suicides

Sarah Burstein ’19 used research from her work in Associate Professor of Psychology Brien Ashdown’s class last semester to author an editorial that appeared in the Jan. 20 issue of the Finger Lakes Times tilted “Fewer guns could mean fewer suicides: Why are politicians ignoring the relationship between guns and suicide?”

The psychology major argues that suicide rates have increased over time, with one of the most common methods used being firearms, which is 87 percent more effective than other suicide methods.

“How does simply having access to a gun, or being able to purchase one relatively easily, influence suicide rates? One answer, supported by research, is that many of people who attempt or commit suicide do so impulsively, often in the spur of the moment after a traumatic occurrence. If politicians and citizens in the U.S. (gun-owners and non-owners alike) work together to develop gun safety regulations and laws, it is likely that the number of suicides in our country will decrease.”

On campus, Burstein works as a teaching assistant, tutor and research assistant in the Psychology Department, and is the President of Psi Chi, the honors society in psychology. Last year, she served as the house manager of the “Mindfulness” theme house. She was also an Orientation Leader and Mentor, works as an athletic trainer aide, and was the William Smith class president her sophomore year.

Below is the full editorial:

Finger Lakes Times

GUEST APPEARANCE: Fewer guns could mean fewer suicides: Why are politicians ignoring the relationship between guns and suicide?

By SARAH M. BURSTEIN;  Jan. 20, 2019

In 2014, guns were the cause of about half of the 42,773 suicides in America. This statistic is even higher among current and former service members, as two-thirds of suicides among this population are committed using firearms.

Sadly, research shows that suicide rates have increased over the past 45 years among people 10-24 years old, with one of the most common methods used being firearms. This is important to consider, as there are approximately 270 million to 310 million guns — both legally and illegally owned — in the United States currently. An estimated 4.6 million of these guns are kept in non-secure locations in households with children.

When using firearms, 90 percent of suicide attempts are successful, compared to only a 3 percent success rate using other methods, such as drugs/poison or cutting. This is a stark difference, explained, perhaps, because those who use less violent means have a chance to reconsider their decision or receive successful medical treatment for injuries sustained.

Even when clinical variables such as mood, anxiety, and substance use disorders are controlled for statistically, having a gun in the home is consistently linked to higher suicide rates. In other words, firearms pose a great risk for those who are suicidal, and simply having a gun in the home increases the risk of suicide for both the gun owner and other people in the house.

These research findings stand regardless of whether the weapon is securely stored or not, though the risk does increase if the gun is not properly locked or stored loaded. Because more than 85 percent of people in the United States own a gun, stricter gun laws will help to decrease suicide rates — a fact illustrated by gun laws in other countries.

Previous research found that the United States is the only country (of those included in the particular study) where guns are the most commonly used method of suicide. People in other countries tend to use less violent means, and are therefore less successful in their attempts.

If access to guns were restricted through tighter gun safety laws, then American suicide rates would likely decrease. For example, in 1996 there was a mass shooting in Port Arthur, Australia. After that terrible event, lawmakers outlawed the ownership of specific types of guns. The government also offered money in exchange for turning in illegal guns, reducing the number of firearms owned by approximately 20 percent. A study on various outcomes of this program found a significant reduction of nearly 80 percent in suicides by gun in Australia following the passing of this law. A similar reduction in suicide occurred in Switzerland, when a 2003 law halved the number of armed citizens and markedly reduced the prevalence of guns in civilian households. Even states within in the U.S. that have stricter gun laws such as pre-purchase background checks, mandatory waiting periods, and enforceable storage requirements have lower rates of gun-related suicide (not to mention lower rates of homicide, too).

You might ask: Why is this? How does simply having access to a gun, or being able to purchase one relatively easily, influence suicide rates? One answer, supported by research, is that many of people who attempt or commit suicide do so impulsively, often in the spur of the moment after a traumatic occurrence. If politicians and citizens in the U.S. (gun-owners and non-owners alike) work together to develop gun safety regulations and laws, it is likely that the number of suicides in our country will decrease.