(CNN) — As gun suicides climb to record levels in the United States, there’s a stark and growing difference in rates among states with stronger gun safety law and those with weaker policies, a new report shows.
States with the weakest gun safety laws saw the rate of gun suicides jump 39 percent over the past two decades – from about 8 gun suicides for every 100,000 people in 1999 to nearly 12 in 2022, according to an analysis from the nonprofit Everytown for Gun Safety.
But in states with the strongest gun safety laws, gun suicide rates decreased slightly over that time — down from 3.6 to 3.4 gun suicides for every 100,000 people.
Everytown scores states on 50 key gun safety policies and categorizes them based on their composite score. There’s a group of eight “national leaders,” with California and New York at the top, and a group of 14 “national failures,” with Mississippi and Arkansas ranking last. Among the laws that carry the most weight in the ranking are background check requirements and red flag laws — court-order interventions that can help remove access to firearms for those who pose a danger to themselves or others.
“One of the reasons we picked to look across 20 years is because that’s a period during which almost all of these national leader states had key policies in place, but nearly none of the national failure states did,” said Sarah Burd-Sharps, senior director of research at Everytown and co-author of the new report. “So it’s kind of a an excellent way to test and answer the question of whether policy matters.”
About 72,000 fewer lives would have been lost in the two decades since 1999 to gun suicide if all states had trends in line with the eight states with the strongest gun safety laws, according to the Everytown report.
The significant disparities in gun suicides did not hold for other means of suicide in that time, the report found.
Guns are the most lethal means of suicide — about 90 percent of attempts result in death, compared with about 4 percent for other means. And experts say that limiting access to them is one of the most important ways to help save lives.
“Suicidal action is very short-lived,” said Ari Davis, policy adviser for the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions who was not involved in the new analysis. “For the most part, people aren’t replacing firearms with another means. But if they are choosing something else because they can’t access the firearm, they’re choosing means that are a lot less lethal. And so it gives them a chance to survive a suicide attempt and get the support that they need.”
Federal data shows that firearms have become the leading cause of death among children, and more than 40 percent of those deaths among children ages 10 to 17 are suicides. The new report from Everytown also found key state-level differences in gun suicide rates among children, particularly related to safe gun storage laws that .
In states with poor policy around safe gun storage, firearm suicide rates among those ages 10 to 24 spiked 35 percent over the past two decades and now is more than twice as high compared with the rate in states with the most protective laws.
“The dynamics of suicide are very complicated. There’s no one single cause. But the research really shows that of all the various ways to address risks, making sure that people in a suicidal crisis don’t have access to a gun is actually one of the easiest ways to take action,” Burd-Sharps said.
“Most firearm suicides are preventable. There needs to be a sense of responsibility and accountability when you are making choices that are putting your family and your kids at risk. These laws incentivize people to make the right choices to make the safe choices for their family.”
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