In his article, “Is the plan to curb military suicide working? Mississippi veterans aren’t so sure,” John Fitzhugh raised valid concerns about the suicide rate. Missing from his article, however, was the most important factor: firearms.
Nearly two-thirds of American gun deaths in 2016 were suicides and 51 percent (nearly 23,000) of American suicide deaths resulted from firearms. In Mississippi over the past decade, approximately 70 percent of all suicide deaths resulted from firearms and this is particularly true among servicemen and women.
Firearms do not cause people to become suicidal, but they make suicidal people far more likely to die. Means safety — which refers to making specific methods for suicide less deadly or less available for an attempt — has been shown to reduce suicide rates across the globe. In my book, “Guns and Suicide: An American Epidemic,” I propose that means safety is our best path toward a reduced suicide rate.
We need to be encouraging Mississippians to store their firearms unloaded with a locking device in a secure location (e.g. lock box or gun safe) and separate from ammunition. We need to encourage them to store the firearms away from home during times of crisis. People do not “find another way” when they are prevented from using a firearm and, even if they did, other methods are less likely to result in death. Means safety is not the entire answer, but it is a vital component of any successful solution to this problem.