Blaming Firearms for Record-High Suicide Rates Ignores Root Causes

suicide root causes
Rehab Center Vita. via Wikimedia Commons

Data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) paints a grim picture of the collective mental health of the United States. More Americans are choosing suicide as the last solution to what ails them than ever before.

The overall results are sad enough, but the data is illuminating and surprising when broken down by demographics. As usual, men are more likely than women to end their lives; however, the age of those who are more likely to kill themselves is trending more toward the older generations versus America’s youth.

What could be causing this uptick in Americans in general and specifically senior citizens? According to experts, it’s guns. But is that the case?

By the numbers

Preliminary data from the CDC recently disclosed that more people in the United States died from suicide last year than any other year on record dating back to 1941. In total, 49,449 individuals chose suicide or, to put it into a number more manageable to digest, 14 out of every 100,000 people in the United States killed themselves last year.

Men were four times more likely to commit suicide than women, although twice as many women killed themselves in 2022 than the year prior. The sharp increase in female suicide was predominantly among white women aged 25 to 34.

Among men, the increase in suicides was within the white elderly group. The only bright side to this report is a surprising decrease in suicide rates among Americans aged 25 and younger.

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It wasn’t that long ago that mental health and suicide rates were clipping upwards for the youngest of the population, so the decrease is a welcome surprise. Unfortunately, the highest rate of suicide overall was from the 75 and older population, at a staggering 21 deaths from suicide for every 100,000 Americans.

The experts were quick to warn that unless the United States starts restricting access to firearms, these numbers will continue to rise.

A repetitive argument

The New York Times framed the accepted narrative behind suicide rates in the below headline:

“U.S. Rate of Suicide by Firearm Reaches Record Level”

This headline ignores the obvious statistical fact that anytime suicides increase, rates of suicide by any manner will inevitably increase to include by firearms.

The article quotes the executive director of the New Jersey Gun Violence Research Center, Michael Anestis, who drops this nugget of knowledge:

“When there are more firearms, there are more firearm suicides.”

Let’s see how that logic works in other situations:

  • When there are more cars, there are more car-related deaths.
  • When there are more drugs, there are more drug-related deaths.
  • When there is more war, there are more war-related deaths.

Policy advisor Ari Davis for the CDC jumped on the gun blame game wagon, stating:

“Gun suicides continue to take the lives of elderly white men at high rates. If we can put time and space between this lethal method and someone in crisis, it can save lives.”

Pay attention to the artful wording in the above. Put time and space between this lethal method and someone in crisis.

Otherwise known as restricting Second Amendment rights in favor of the illusion of safety and care.

Low hanging fruit

Harvard University psychiatrist Dr. Gonzalo Martinez-Ales said regarding suicide prevention strategies:

“firearms are the low-hanging fruit here”

What Dr. Martinez-Ales is trying to convey is that restricting access to firearms is an easy solution to the suicide epidemic in the United States. However, in the case of what is leading to the propensity for American suicides, attacking the “low-hanging fruit” is the worst option.

Americans aren’t killing themselves in record numbers because of easy access to guns. That just happens to be the most common modus operandi, particularly for men.

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Women, on the other hand, tend to opt for much less explosive and physically painful ways to end their lives, such as poisoning. The way to combat America’s suicide rates isn’t by going after guns; it’s by going after the root causes of suicide.

People who commit suicide or who have suicidal ideations tend to get to that state out of a feeling of desperation. Desperate because they feel alone, they feel backed into a corner with no other way out, they feel insignificant or unwanted, and they believe that if they just weren’t alive anymore, the pain they feel would cease to exist.

A nation lost

Feeling lost, alone, insignificant, unwanted, and in perpetual internal pain is a tough place to be in, as I and many other veterans are intimately aware. I’ve lost friends to suicide and struggled myself with feelings of soul-crushing loneliness, isolation, and feeling unwanted and unloved.

I endured through these times thanks to a combination of mental health services, which weren’t easy to find, particularly while I was in uniform, and because of a deep feeling of purpose and connection I felt to something larger than myself. Is it any wonder that Americans feel lost and value their lives so little with less believing in a higher power?

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A Pew Research Center study projects that the percentage of Christians in the United States will fall well below 50% by 2070 to a staggering 35%. Americans are missing a sense of purpose, shared identity, and belief.

If you don’t believe in anything, it’s easy to devalue everything, which leads to a belief that there isn’t much need to carry on when times are tough. Attacking “low-hanging fruit” is just as easy a way out of solving the suicide problem in our country as suicide itself is an easy way out of dealing with life.

American white men are told they are inherently bad due to their racist misogynistic ways, white women are told they are inherently bad due to their racist privileged ways, black men are told they can’t amount to anything due to an inherently racist system, and black women are told the same while having to raise the next generation alone. It is hard to feel optimistic when faced with those narratives.

Instead of addressing “low-hanging fruit,” it’s high time the experts focus on changing the narrative, advocating for shared beliefs and values, elevating Americans by pointing out their inherent value, and empowering them to make connections instead of focusing on disconnecting from one another.

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USAF Retired, Bronze Star recipient, outspoken veteran advocate. Hot mess mom to two monsters and wife to equal parts... More about Kathleen J. Anderson

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