Gun violence kills 40,000 Americans each year. While public attention has focused on mass shootings, murders and accidental gun deaths, these account for little more than one-third of the firearms fatalities. The majority of gun deaths are suicides — and just over half of suicides involve guns. Some 24,432 Americans used guns to kill themselves in 2018, up from 19,392 in 2010. Gun owners are not more suicidal than people who don’t own guns, but attempts with guns are more likely to be fatal. Nearly a year after the coronavirus pandemic began, experts are bracing for a rise in suicides. Gun sales have risen steadily since March. As shutdowns aimed at containing the virus have disrupted lives and led to social isolation, studies have shown an increase in anxiety and suicidal ideation. “So many people are struggling right now,” said Jennifer Stuber, who helped found the University of Washington’s Forefront Suicide Prevention center. “The indicators are that a perfect storm is about to hit.”
The concern about suicides has led to an unusual alliance between suicide-prevention advocates and gun-rights proponents, reports the New York Times. They are devising new strategies to prevent suicide in a population committed to the right to bear arms. Gun shows had started giving suicide-prevention booths space before the coronavirus appeared. Now, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a trade association for the firearms industry, carries a suicide-prevention video on the home page of its website, and invites suicide experts to speak at online events. Firearms retailers hand out postcards that carry suicide-prevention hotline numbers and list signs of depression, including changes in sleep habits, sudden weight loss and alcohol abuse. Many gun shops have stopped providing loaner firearms to new customers to try out, as people have used these to kill themselves at ranges.