New research shows dramatic spike in young people using guns to end their lives

SPOKANE, Wash. — Gun violence is crippling our country, and people using guns to take their own lives isn’t improving.

In Idaho, suicides make up 87% of all firearm deaths. In Washington — 75% of all firearm deaths are suicides.

Researchers say making sure firearms never get in the hands of someone unstable or struggling with their mental health is critical because suicides are fatal 90% of the time when using a gun.

“Having a firearm in the home increased the risk of both suicide and homicide by two to threefold,” said Dr. Frederick Rivara. He’s a professor at the University of Washington, a physician and the Director of the Firearm Injury and Policy Research Program.

He’s been researching and looking for gun safety solutions for decades. Something he says people often miss is the connection between guns and suicide.

“One of the issues that people often don’t really realize when they talk about firearm violence is that in the United States — 60% of firearm deaths are suicide,” he said.

The pandemic has only made this worse for young people.

According to advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety, the rate of young people taking their own lives with guns is now at its highest point in more than 20 years. Gun violence is something the Office of Firearm Safety and Violence Prevention is tracking in Washington, and suicide is a growing concern.

“They’re absolutely concerning. One thing we know for sure is that suicide by firearm is much more likely to be fatal than any other method of suicide,” said Kate Kelly, the executive director for the Office of Firearm Safety and Violence Prevention.

Her office is worried about this trend among young people and others.

“What we see is kind of a dispersion of firearm suicide across the state with a concentration in places where veterans and active military live,” she said.

These experts say gun owners can and need to play a role securing firearms in their homes.

“Safe storage does not just mean storing them out of sight,” Kelly said. “It means actually locking them up, either locking up the gun itself or locking the gun in a safe or case or some other locked area.”

“What we try to do is really focus on is lethal means counseling,” Rivara said. “How can we protect families? How can we keep people safe if they have crisis and they have a firearm in the home?”

These are some of the conversations Rivara has with his patients, encouraging them to take proactive measures to save more lives.

He would like to see more red flag laws throughout the country. He says these would go a long way to make sure guns don’t end up in the wrong hands. Right now, Rivara says Washington is one of only 19 states where people can raise concerns, or a red flag, with the courts if they think someone with a gun is a threat to themselves or others.

If you or someone you know is struggling with suicide, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at: 800-273-8255. You can also text the word “HEAL” to 741741.

RESOURCES: Suicide prevention and mental health services