New Study Underscores Rural-Urban Divide In Gun Suicide

A two-lane highway connects the Colorado towns of Craig and Steamboat Springs, a part of the state famous for elk hunting. Communities like these have high rates of suicide and gun ownership.
A two-lane highway connects the Colorado towns of Craig and Steamboat Springs, a part of the state famous for elk hunting. Communities like these have high rates of suicide and gun ownership.

A new study shows rural congressional districts have far higher suicide rates than urban ones and that firearms are a major factor.

The study from gun control advocacy group Everytown For Gun Safety underscores a rural-urban divide exacerbated by uneven access to mental health care and the relationship between access to firearms and suicide rates.

Firearms are the most common method of suicide and suicide accounts for the vast majority of gun deaths in this country. More than 24,000 Americans died by firearm suicide in 2018, according to the latest figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The difference in suicide rates between rural and urban areas has grown over the last two decades, according to a 2018 CDC study.

What is unique about the Everytown study is that it examines suicide rates by congressional district. The highest rates were in districts with large rural populations in the West and South.

Arizona’s fourth district had the highest rate of gun suicide, at 18 per 100,000, and other Western districts in Idaho, Colorado, Montana and Wyoming saw more than 13 firearm suicide deaths per 100,000 people. The national average was 7.1 per 100,000. Guns & America explored the problems of gun suicide in the rural West in a recent series.

These areas also tend to have higher than average rates of gun ownership.

J.P. Jameson, a psychologist and professor who studies suicide at Appalachian State University says the findings underscore the importance of working with gun owners to encourage things like safe firearm storage.

“I really think we need to to consider our approach as a country to the relationship between firearms and suicide and talk about it not as a gun rights issue, but as a safety issue,” he said.

Health workers, too, need to do their homework and treat firearm suicide as a public health issue.

“We need to do a better job,” he said, “of training mental health professionals to be brave enough to ask about firearms access.”

Guns & America is a public media reporting project on the role of guns in American life.

Copyright 2020 Guns and America. To see more, visit Guns and America.

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