In the wake of the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Florida, three weeks ago, the issue of gun violence and its far-reaching impacts on young people has once again been thrust into the spotlight. Our new report, Protecting the Parkland Generation: Strategies to Keep America’s Kids Safe from Gun Violence, examines the life-altering implications for the children who witness or survive shootings, particularly with regard to their mental health. Yet, the substantial impact of exposure to violence can be mitigated with the adoption of lifesaving gun safety laws that ensure firearms stay out of the hands of minors and those who may be a threat to themselves or others.
The dangerous consequences of the gun violence epidemic cannot be overstated. School shootings may garner the most attention, but in fact they represent a small percentage of tragedies when it comes to the deadly intersection between kids and guns—many more children experience gun violence in other ways, like domestic violence, urban gun violence, unintentional shootings, and suicide. And the impact of gun violence on kids is staggering:
- Since Columbine alone, more than 150,000 minors have been shot in the United States. Additionally, 150,000 students in at least 170 elementary, middle, and high school have experienced school shootings.
- In real economic terms, the annual cost of gun violence to children alone is at least $21 billion.
- Nearly 60% of all high school students report fears of a mass shooting at their school or in their community.
- Nearly 40% of children exposed to a shooting will develop post-traumatic stress disorder.
- Guns are now the third-leading cause of death for all Americans under age 18.
But, as the brave survivors of the Parkland shooting have pointed out, well-researched, concrete solutions exist. There are a host of policies and programs outlined in this report, designed and proven to reduce gun violence and save lives, like:
- Prevent Access to Guns: Nearly 1.7 million American kids live in homes where guns are loaded and unlocked. Children find them and, tragically, use them in unintentional shootings, teen suicides, and school shootings. Enacting laws that require safe storage, punish adults who make it easy for children to access guns, and encourage the development of gun safety technology will save kids’ lives.
- Raise the Minimum Age: The shooters in Newtown and Parkland were too young to buy beer but old enough to purchase AR-15–style rifles. We should strengthen age requirements, beginning by prohibiting anyone under 21 from purchasing semiautomatic rifles.
- Disarm Dangerous People: The Parkland shooter exhibited warning signs that he was armed and dangerous, even posting online that he wanted to become a school shooter. Extreme risk protection order laws allow law enforcement and family members to petition a court to temporarily disarm people like him and other potentially violent individuals.
- Invest in Urban Gun Violence Prevention and Intervention Programs: For black families in America, the chance of a male child dying from a gunshot wound is 62% higher than dying in a motor vehicle crash. Strategic intervention programs in urban communities plagued by gun violence have been able to cut gun homicide rates by as much as 50% in as little as two years. States should fund and support these lifesaving programs.
It’s long overdue that our lawmakers stand up to the NRA by considering and enacting policies and programs like these. Our children need protection, and they’re speaking out and demanding congressional action on this issue. We’re proud to fight for gun safety alongside these courageous students and invite you to learn more about how lawmakers can help save a generation of kids from experiencing the terror and horror gun violence wreaks on their lives.
Read our new report to learn how your lawmakers can take action for student safety—Protecting the Parkland Generation: Strategies to Keep Kids Safe from Gun Violence.
Giffords Law Center’s Annual Gun Law Scorecard grades and ranks all 50 states on their gun laws
States with the highest gun death rates consistently have weak gun laws. Half of the nation—25 states—receive an F grade
March 1, 2018—Today, Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence released the latest edition of its Annual Gun Law Scorecard, which grades and ranks each state on the strength of its gun laws. This comprehensive, 50-state analysis clearly shows how stronger gun laws like background checks help reduce gun death rates and save lives.
“Every day in our country, nearly 100 Americans die from gun violence. While this crisis is impacting families in every community in every state, we know its toll disproportionately hits states with weaker gun laws the hardest,” said Robyn Thomas, executive director of Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. “Year after year, our research shows that states that get serious about passing stronger gun violence prevention laws have a much better chance of reducing the number of deaths linked to firearms. This scorecard should be a wake-up call to the half of the nation that has failing grades that they are on notice. The Gun Law Scorecard should inspire elected leaders, activists, and concerned citizens to take action.”
The Annual Gun Law Scorecard makes clear that there is a significant opportunity to address the nation’s gun violence epidemic if more states act. Since 2014, the gun death rate has been rising, with gun deaths jumping 8% from 2014 to 2015 and another 7% from 2015 to 2016. That resulted in the deaths of 38,000 people in 2016—the deadliest year for gun deaths since 1993.
Of the 10 states with the lowest gun death rates, eight have some of the strongest gun laws in the country, receiving a B or better. All eight have also passed private-sale background checks. Those eight states are:
Yet, even with such powerful data showing that states with stronger gun laws have lower death rates, many states have done nothing. The 10 states with the highest gun death rates have some of the weakest gun laws in the nation—with all 10 receiving an F the Gun Law Scorecard. They are, in order of deadliness:
States continue trend of passing stronger laws
The scores for some states reflect the continued efforts of Giffords to help lawmakers in state capitals pass strong gun safety measures. Six states—North Dakota, New Jersey, Nevada, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah—received additional points this year for new domestic violence laws, with Tennessee raising its grade from an F to a D-. The state established procedures to ensure domestic abusers surrender firearms after becoming prohibited. Other states enacted laws to prohibit domestic violence misdemeanants and subjects of domestic violence restraining orders from possessing guns.
Five states—California, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, and New York—received more points for funding urban gun violence intervention and prevention programs,which are remarkably effective at saving lives. Last December, Giffords Law Center, in partnership with PICO National Network and the Community Justice Reform Coalition, released a landmark report, Investing in Intervention: The Critical Role of State-Level Support in Breaking the Cycle of Urban Gun Violence, which highlights innovative programs in three states that dramatically reduce levels of gun violence in impacted communities.
Another state, Oregon, received additional points for enacting an Extreme Risk Protection Order law that empowers families and law enforcement to petition a court to temporarily remove guns from people proven to be at risk to themselves or others. Oregon’s Governor Kate Brown signed an ERPO bill into law after members of the Giffords Oregon Coalition testified on behalf of the bill and urged Oregon leaders to pass it.
Politicians ignoring the will of the people hurt their state’s gun law scores—and safety
States also experienced setbacks. Nevada’s grade dropped from a C- to a D because a ballot initiative approved by voters in 2016 requiring background checks on private sales of firearms was not implemented. Nevada’s attorney general has refused to let the law take effect because of a dispute with the FBI over who should conduct the background checks. While voters strongly approved the background check law to help make sure dangerous individuals can’t buy guns, the attorney general, who spoke of his opposition to the requirement during a speech at the NRA Convention last year, set the state’s score, and public safety, back.
Two other states—North Dakota and New Hampshire—lost points for enacting permitless carry laws in 2017. Iowa also dropped from a C to a C- because of a new stand your ground law. Stand your ground laws remove a person’s “duty to retreat” in a public conflict, allowing them to shoot to kill even when they could safely walk away.
Activists are leading the charge to beat back dangerous gun lobby bills
This year’s Gun Law Scorecard also highlights how gun violence prevention advocates’ success in thwarting gun lobby–backed bills allowed many states to keep their high grades. In 2017, advocates were successful in stopping 26 permitless carry bills, which would allow people to carry loaded guns in public without a permit or oversight. Advocates alsostopped 20 states from enacting measures to allow guns on college and university campuses and beat back stand your ground laws in 11 other states.
Experts Available for Comment
Robyn Thomas, Executive Director, Giffords Law Center
Laura Cutilletta, Legal Director, Giffords Law Center
Allison Anderman, Managing Attorney, Giffords Law Center
We’re so proud to release the Annual Gun Law Scorecard—every year, we grade each state based on the strength or weakness of its gun laws. Over the years, the Scorecard has brought forward a straightforward but compelling truth: by investing in proven solutions to gun violence, working both with lawmakers and community-based leaders, we can drastically reduce gun death rates and shore up public safety from this widespread crisis that takes more than 38,000 American lives each year.
The information visualized in the Scorecard is required reading in the current political climate—we’ve seen the level of discourse elevate since the tragic shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida took 17 lives too soon. Following the emotional pleas of student survivors, lawmakers are being urged by constituents to pass the kind of gun safety laws that would prevent such shootings from tearing apart other communities.
This year’s Annual Gun Law Scorecard reveals, yet again, the undeniable correlation between a state’s gun laws and its gun death rate. States with the weakest laws, like Mississippi and Alaska (ranked 50 and 44, respectively) have some of our nation’s highest gun death rates (4 and 1). Meanwhile, states with a strong commitment to saving lives from gun violence, like California and Connecticut (ranked 1 and 3, respectively), have low gun death rates to match (43 and 45, respectively). This data correlates with our research that shows that lifesaving solutions to gun violence, like universal background checks and urban violence intervention programs, work to reduce gun death rates at the state level.
In October, 2017 our nation was forced to cope with the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history, when a gunman opened fire over a country music festival in Las Vegas, Nevada, killing 58 and injuring a stunning 851 more. The shooter used a deadly accessory known as a “bump stock” to fire into the crowd more rapidly, essentially turning a military-style weapon into a machine gun.
In the wake of the tragedy, lawmakers and the public called on Congress to ban this dangerous accessory, but so far, progress on this piece of legislation has been hamstrung by the gun lobby and its profit-before-people agenda. The renewed national attention to our movement added many more essential voices of support to the fight for gun safety legislation.
This year’s analysis of the status of gun laws in all 50 states revealed:
- Impressive progress for gun safety laws at the state level: Since the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, our movement has worked to pass more than 210 new gun safety laws in 45 states and Washington DC.
- Laws to protect victims of domestic abuse from gun violence remain popular: Women in domestic violence situations are five times more likely to be killed if their abuser has a gun—this grim fact led lawmakers in eight states to pass laws preventing domestic abusers from accessing firearms, even in states with strong gun cultures, like Louisiana and North Dakota.
Community-based solutions to gun violence are gaining traction: This year, two states with strong gun laws, Connecticut and California, passed bills that secured funding for violence intervention and prevention programs in underserved urban communities.
Defeat of campus-carry bills: The gun violence prevention movement scored major defensive victories by standing up against irresponsible legislation that would allow hidden, loaded weapons to be carried on college campuses. Activists defeated dangerous guns-on-campus bills in 18 states.
Other victories: Additionally, states moved to save lives in a number of other areas, with Oregon passing an Extreme Risk Protection Order, Massachusetts banning bump stocks, and California passing a law that prohibits hate crime offenders from possessing guns for 10 years.
To learn more about how your state can strengthen its gun laws in these and other essential ways, explore the Annual Gun Law Scorecard. The evidence is clear—enacting gun safety policies like universal background checks, extreme risk protection order laws, and funding for community-based violence intervention programs saves lives.
WASHINGTON DC—Former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, the co-founder of the gun violence prevention organization Giffords, issued the following statement reacting to today’s mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
STATEMENT FROM CONGRESSWOMAN GABRIELLE GIFFORDS:
“The accounts from today’s school shooting in Parkland, Florida strike fear into all Americans. Is it safe to send our kids to school? Are we safe in our homes and communities? But our fear cannot compare to what our innocent children felt as the gunshots rang out, bullets flew through the halls of their school, and their teachers and classmates were gunned down.
“Even in our grief, we must summon the courage to fight against this fear. Americans must find the courage to imagine a country where these massacres do not occur. Our leaders must find the courage to escape the confines of their politics and pursue the moral necessity of peace and safety.
“If I could offer protection to the 315 Americans who are shot every day, I would. But we can’t wall ourselves from the threat of gun violence, nor will we find safety in the deadly cycle of arming ourselves against each other.
“The defenders of the status quo—advocates of the firearms industry and the politicians paid to defend it— will tell you that events like these are virtual acts of nature, products of mental illness or bad parenting, beyond our ability to control. This could not be further from the truth. Every day we fail to take action, we choose this fate. We tolerate politicians who fail to acknowledge this crisis and vote against our safety. We let our gun violence epidemic continue day after deadly day.
“My heart is with the victims and survivors, and my gratitude is with Broward County’s courageous first responders. The question now is if we will find the courage to pass the laws we need to protect our children, to stop dangerous people from accessing guns. And if Congress won’t act, American voters must.”
The following gun law and law enforcement experts are available for interviews.
To arrange an interview, email email@example.com:
- Captain Mark Kelly, Co-Founder, Giffords
- Peter Ambler, Executive Director, Giffords
- Robyn Thomas, Executive Director, Giffords Law Center (Recently featured on 60 Minutes)
- David Chipman, Former ATF Agent, Senior Policy Advisor, Giffords
- Allison Anderman, Managing Attorney, Giffords Law Center
- Laura Cutilletta, Legal Director, Giffords Law Center
- Ari Freilich, Staff Attorney, Giffords Law Center
- Robin Lloyd, Director of Government Affairs, Giffords
- Lindsay Nichols, Federal Policy Director, Giffords Law Center
- Adam Skaggs, Chief Counsel, Giffords Law Center
- Hannah Shearer, Staff Attorney, Giffords Law Center
The year 2017 brought too many devastating losses due to gun violence—high-profile mass shootings, combined with thousands of daily incidents that don’t make the news, contributed to the United States’ astronomically high rate of gun violence.
But the gun violence prevention movement continues to make historic progress, building on momentum that began after the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary. Since that horrific shooting five years ago, over 210 lifesaving gun safety laws have passed in 45 states and DC, all at a time when Congress has failed to act to save lives from gun violence at the federal level.
In our special 2017 year-end edition of Gun Law Trendwatch, which publishes biweekly during the legislative cycle, we round up the gun violence prevention movement’s progress in 2017.
In the 2017 legislative cycle, several states passed gun safety laws that improve background checks and promote suicide prevention. Other states, even ones with strong gun cultures, like Louisiana, enacted laws strengthening efforts to prevent domestic abusers from accessing guns. And California and Connecticut committed to funding programs aimed at reducing urban gun violence.
This year, our attorneys tracked, analyzed, and summarized over 1,600 firearm bills in all 50 states and partnered directly with advocates in more than half the states to advance lifesaving legislation.
Some of the standout trends from this year featured in Gun Law Trendwatch: 2017 Year-End Review include:
- Domestic Violence: Every year, a number of states pass laws that make it harder for domestic abusers to access guns, and 2017 was no exception.
- Extreme Risk Protection Orders: Bills that would allow family members and law enforcement to petition courts to temporarily disarm individuals who pose a significant risk to themselves or others were introduced in 18 states and enacted in Oregon.
- Defensive Victories: Legislators in 20 states rejected measures to allow guns in public without a permit, and guns on campus bills were defeated by 18 states—major setbacks to the gun lobby’s dangerous agenda.
Even in the face of terrible events, like this fall’s mass shootings in Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs, Texas, our movement continues to beat back the gun lobby’s deadly agenda by working tirelessly to advocate for lifesaving gun safety laws and fight back against dangerous bills introduced by lawmakers caught in the grips of the gun lobby.
Gun violence is one of the most urgent public health crises of our time, with nearly 115,000 Americans killed or injured by bullets each year. Nowhere is this more evident than in historically underserved urban communities, many of which suffer from gun death rates that dwarf the national average. The inequalities faced by these communities are real—black men make up a mere 6% of the population in the United States, but account for more than half of all gun homicide victims each year. That staggering toll is unconscionable.
Our new report, Investing in Intervention: The Critical Role of State-Level Support in Breaking the Cycle of Urban Gun Violence, takes a deep dive into the concrete ways state leaders can support and scale up the community-driven solutions that have a real and lasting impact on gun violence in urban neighborhoods. Released in partnership with PICO National Network and the Community Justice Reform Coalition, this report serves as a roadmap for lawmakers and advocates who want to put into action a strategy that saves lives from gun violence while also generating millions in cost savings for taxpayers and lifting up communities.
Currently, only five states fund and support evidence-based urban violence prevention and intervention programs. Investing in Intervention takes a close look at three of those states—Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York—all of which have had remarkable success cutting gun violence rates. For example, in Massachusetts, one of the nation’s leaders when it comes to investing in urban gun violence reduction, gun homicide rates fell by 35% from 2010 to 2015, while nationally gun homicide rates actually increased 14% in that same period.
The report also identifies six key elements that should be present in any state plan to invest in urban gun violence prevention and intervention programs:
- Focus on High-Risk People and Places
- Implement Evidence-Based Strategies
- Provide Robust State-Level Coordination
- Conduct Regular Program Evaluations
- Commit to Long-Term, Stable Funding
- Facilitate Community Input and Engagement
Many more states should follow the lead of Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York in investing in these solutions. The cost to taxpayers to support and scale up these proven programs is minuscule compared to what gun violence currently costs—an estimated $229 billion annually nationwide, and these solutions have nothing to do with the regulation of firearms, making them more likely to receive bipartisan support. There truly is no excuse for inaction.
To learn more about the proven solutions to urban gun violence, read our 2016 report Healing Communities in Crisis: Lifesaving Solutions to the Urban Gun Violence Epidemic
If you’re a lawmaker or activist looking to support an evidence-based gun violence reduction program in your state, contact one of our legal experts at firstname.lastname@example.org
At Giffords Law Center we envision a safer America, where our children grow up without fear of gun violence. This isn’t a utopian dream—it’s something we can build in this generation. In fact, in states all around the country, we’ve helped write, pass, and enact legislation that is reducing gun violence and saving lives.
In 2016, the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence formally partnered with Americans for Responsible Solutions, led by former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, retired NASA astronaut and Navy combat veteran Captain Mark Kelly, to form a new force for gun safety that stretches from coast to coast.
Now, we’ve united our organizations to form Giffords, to represent Americans from all walks of life in the fight against gun violence. Standing up to the gun lobby takes courage, and our advocates and legal experts are committed to seeing an end to this public health crisis that tears communities apart.
Less than 18 months after the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, the United States raised the bar yet again when it comes to naming “the worst mass shooting in modern American history.” This week, at the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas, Nevada, a gunman opened fire from a hotel room overlooking the event, killing 58 and injuring more than 500 people.
It is no coincidence that the death toll from mass shootings continues to increase.
In Las Vegas, the shooter used an accessory known as a bump stock—a device that attaches to a semi-automatic rifle, increasing its rate of fire to nearly that of a machine gun—which allowed him to inflict maximum carnage on the 22,000 concertgoers. The catastrophic loss of life in the Las Vegas shooting was due in large part to the use of a bump stock, but this device is just one of many types of firearm components and accessories being marketed by the gun industry that convert firearms into military-style weapons.
While a bump stock allowed the Las Vegas shooter to dramatically increase his rate of fire, another accessory also contributed to the horrific number of casualties—large capacity ammunition magazines. These magazines, which started gaining traction in the 1980s, hold many rounds of ammunition (in some cases up to 100 bullets), enabling a shooter to fire for a sustained period of time without having to reload. While such capability may be useful on the battlefield, it is particularly dangerous in civilian life. The Las Vegas shooter had multiple large capacity ammunition magazines in his hotel room, and, based on the number of rounds he fired without pause, used several.
Large capacity ammunition magazines allow mass shooters to do unspeakable damage in a matter of seconds. These accessories are the common thread among the deadliest mass shootings in the United States in the last 20 years. During the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012, the shooter fired 154 rounds in just five minutes, killing 26 people, including 20 schoolchildren. Even though the shooter was armed with 30-round magazines, when he paused to reload, 11 children were able to escape.
The smaller the number of rounds a magazine can hold, the more times a mass shooter is forced to reload, allowing law enforcement to intervene and survivors to run to safety. In Tucson, Arizona, the gunman who shot former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and killed six people, including a nine-year old girl, was tackled while he attempted to reload his weapon with another large capacity ammunition magazine.
While no federal law restricting magazine capacity exists, seven states and the District of Columbia prohibit the purchase or possession of magazines capable of holding more than ten rounds (Colorado limits magazine capacity to 15 rounds).
While marketing bump stocks and large capacity ammunition magazines to gun owners might increase gun industry profits, the toll on the American public is unfathomable. In addition to increasing the number of casualties in a mass shooting, these weapons also pose great risks to law enforcement officers who may encounter criminals armed with these weapons. And, contrary to claims by the gun lobby, militarized weapons are completely unnecessary for self-defense or hunting. The Los Angeles Police Chief put the matter succinctly, stating that these magazines “transform a gun into a weapon of mass death rather than a home-protection-type device.”
If Congress is interested in taking urgent action to address bump stocks as an initial response to the Las Vegas shooting, here is the framework we propose:
- Congress should ban the future manufacturing of bump stocks.
- Congress should ban the transfer of bump stocks in current circulation from one person to another.
- Existing bump stocks already in circulation should be registered to their current owner under the National Firearms Act.
- Congress must dedicate additional resources to ATF to enforce our nation’s gun laws and deal with a surge in NFA weapons applications.
- Congress must require gun stores to report multiple sales of all firearms, not just handguns, to ATF.
The Law Center commends the courageous lawmakers who have resisted pressure by the gun lobby and enacted laws prohibiting the possession and use of militarized weapons and accessories, such as large capacity ammunition magazines. We are encouraged by the recent discussion of bipartisan efforts to regulate bump stocks, and hope recent events put the use of these deadly accessories in perspective for lawmakers, advocates, and the public.
Today, yet another American city is left reeling in the aftermath of a devastating and record-breaking mass shooting. From the 32nd floor of his hotel room, a 64-year-old gunman with at least 23 firearms in his possession fired indiscriminately into a crowd of concertgoers in Las Vegas. While the human toll of this tragedy has risen throughout the day, at present—with 59 lives lost and more than 520 injured—this tragic event has already surpassed last year’s nightclub shooting at Pulse in Orlando as the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history.
Too many of these shameful records have been broken in the last decade. In fact, all but three of the most deadly mass shootings in the country’s history have taken place in the last 10 years. Still, it is important to remember that this constant state of crisis is neither normal nor inevitable.
According to our research, Nevada’s gun laws are some of the weakest in the nation. Despite passing a 2016 ballot initiative requiring background checks on private sales and transfers of firearms, as of this month, the law has yet to be implemented. The state also fails to limit the number of firearms an individual can purchase at one time, enabling people to amass arsenals like the one found in the shooter’s hotel room. Among other dangerous gaps in the state’s gun laws, Nevada does not prohibit the transfer or possession of machine guns, assault weapons, 50 caliber rifles, or regulate large capacity ammunition magazines—policies that might have mitigated the amount of carnage the gunman was able to inflict.
Instead of using every tool available to prevent further tragedies, some legislators are trying to chip away at lifesaving regulations. In his remarks this morning, the president rightfully praised the speed and efficiency of first responders who were able to quickly locate the shooter and prevent even more death. However, legislation introduced earlier this year, and supported by the corporate gun lobby, would deregulate silencers, making them available to far more people than ever before and making the job of first responders all the more difficult. Amidst the chaos of a loud concert, with tens of thousands of people in attendance, it’s difficult to imagine the carnage that may have ensued without the sound of gunshots and a visible muzzle flash.
As these mass shootings with ever-increasing body counts continue, one thing is clear: this is not the time roll back the smart gun laws that are proven to protect public safety. As always, our hearts are with the victims and their families during this painful moment. Their courage and resilience is our inspiration as we continue fighting for the gun laws that can make this country safer.
Today, the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence is proud to release Confronting the Inevitability Myth: How Data-Driven Gun Policies Save Lives from Suicide. The culmination of a yearlong project to research and analyze the suicide crisis, our report provides an in-depth examination of the deadly role guns play in suicide in America and outlines the policies and intervention programs that have been proven to help prevent these tragedies.
Though we are living in a time of rising suicide rates, many Americans, including our lawmakers, buy into the pervasive myth that suicides are inevitable. Confronting the Inevitability Myth thoroughly debunks this misconception by arming readers with data and research from across the field showing how gun access drives suicide risk in this country and, consequently, how effective gun policy and intervention programs can save more lives. A data supplement within the report takes an even deeper dive to show just how significantly guns contribute to state suicide rates: compared to all other variables, including race, gender, rurality, substance abuse, and severe mental illness, gun access correlates the most with suicide death.
As Confronting the Inevitability Myth shows, suicide’s impact is enormous. Since 2000, more than half a million Americans have died by suicide, and the majority used a gun.But these deaths aren’t spread equally across the nation—states with immediate, unrestricted access to guns suffer a hugely disproportionate number of our nation’s suicides. Because gunshots are so uniquely lethal, they account for 5% of suicide attempts, but are responsible for 50% of suicide deaths. A variety of risk factors—including mental health conditions and trauma, addiction and isolation, bullying and abuse—drive some people to attempt suicide. But easy access to guns is often the determining factor in whether a person at risk survives.
The good news is that there are many steps we can take today to address this public health crisis because the simple, hopeful truth is that these deaths are preventable. By addressing the primary factors that drive suicide risk, including access to guns, we can make a lifesaving difference for many Americans. Confronting the Inevitability Myth outlines six essential policy solutions that work to prevent suicide by reducing people’s access to guns during a suicidal crisis:
- Universal background checks help to keep severely suicidal people from acquiring guns after they have been involuntarily committed for their own safety.
- Extreme Risk Protection Order laws empower family members to proactively protect their loved ones by petitioning a court to temporarily remove guns during a severe mental health crisis.
- Voluntary gun relinquishment laws could help empower suicidal people to act to promote their own health and safety by limiting their access to guns during mental crises.
- Firearm waiting periods provide a brief but crucial cooling off period to guard against impulsive, suicidal gun purchases.
- Smart guns, safety training, and safe storage laws help keep children and teens from gaining unsupervised access to guns can meaningfully reduce youth suicide.
- Healthcare-based suicide prevention programs have shown that medical professionals make a remarkable difference in reducing their patients’ risk of suicide if they have the training, freedom, and support to effectively counsel their patients about gun safety.
These best practices chart a clear path to progress on this issue, and there’s no better time to act on them than now. The changes we recommend in this report are modest and—to be clear—they are entirely consistent with the Second Amendment. But by understanding and addressing the factors that drive suicide risk, we can save more lives.