Did Surging Gun Sales Lead To An Increase In Suicides?

On Wednesday’s Bearing Arms’ Cam & Co, we talked about a new study that set out to show the Great Gun Run of 2020 led to the sharp increase in shootings and homicides recorded across the U.S. last year. That hypothesis was dashed by the data, which offered no evidence that “gun violence” saw the highest increase where gun sales soared. Instead, it looks like there was a direct correlation to an increase in violence in places that were rocked by riots and unrest in 2020, something the researchers took great pains to avoid investigating.

So if an increase in gun sales didn’t lead to an increase in violent crime, what about an increase in suicides? After all, 2020 was an extraordinarily stressful year for a lot of us, and we do know that drug overdose deaths skyrocketed as well last year, with an estimated 100,000 deaths recorded across the country.

But according to Dr. Michael Anestis, executive director of the New Jersey Gun Violence Research Center at Rutgers University, there’s no evidence that suicides actually increased in 2020, which is great news. But Anestis, who joins me on today’s Cam & Co, says surveys his team conducted with more than 6,000 gun owners in three states, indicates that a higher-than-usual number of first time gun buyers last year did, however, report a history of suicidal thoughts, and that concerns him.

I confess, when I first got an email with a press release touting Anestis’ new research and asking if I’d like to talk to him, my impulse was to send the message to the trash. Not that I object to talking to folks from the other side. I actually enjoy it, but gun control supporters rarely express any interest in talking to a pro-2A guy like me. So, I decided to send off an email of my own to set up and interview fully expecting to hear nothing back, but I was pleasantly surprised when Anestis almost immediately confirmed.

Now, I will say up front that if you’re expecting a back-and-forth screaming match between the two of us on today’s show, you’re going to be disappointed (though I did tell him that the next time he returned we could debate “shall issue” carry laws). No, today’s topic is about how to help ensure that gun owners who are in a mental health crisis, or even have family members who are struggling, can get through those tough times with their life and their rights intact.

I’m sure that Anestis and I have very different views of gun ownership and the right to keep and bear arms, but I was truly surprised by what he told me when I asked him what he thought was a more effective approach; new gun control laws or a voluntary approach using peer-to-peer communication and outreach by gun stores, firearm instructors, and others in the Second Amendment community. Without hesitation Anestis said that a voluntary approach is more effective than a safe storage mandate at preventing suicides (though he did add that he believes storage laws can be effective at preventing juvenile access to guns).

I happen to agree with Anestis about a voluntary approach (though I still disagree about the efficacy, constitutionality, and practicality of storage mandates) to suicide prevention among gun owners, and we’ve covered several initiatives based within the 2A community that have shown a lot of promise here on the website.

Gun control advocates have really ruined the phrase, “gun safety”, haven’t they? If you’re like most gun owners, when you hear the words “gun safety”, you immediately think “uh oh, here comes some gun control”. So, when I saw that a group called the Colorado Firearm Safety Coalition had put out an interactive map of the state showing where gun owners can temporarily store firearms, my first thought was “that’s actually a surprisingly useful thing for a gun control group to do”.

I should have known better. As it turns out, the Colorado Firearm Safety Coalition is an actual gun safety group, rare as they may be these days.

… The laser-like focus of the organization is suicide prevention, and they note that “out-of-home gun storage can be especially helpful to persons in crisis at risk for suicide”, but many people have no idea where they could actually store their firearms temporarily if they felt like they needed to do so. The Colorado Firearm Safety Commission has now solved that problem, at least for gun owners in the state, with an interactive map listing dozens of places where gun owners can safely and temporarily store their firearms if need be.

Most of the facilities that are willing to consider temporarily holding firearms are gun stores, though there is one “vault and safe deposit box” facility and a handful of police departments as well. I think the reliance on private businesses is a good thing, because it lessens the concern about having a hard time getting your firearms back when you want them.

Like many of us, I’ve not only been personally impacted by suicide but have seen the effects on both family and friends as well, and I do believe that it’s important we not shy away from these conversations, especially when there are good ideas coming from collaborative efforts involving gun owners themselves.

I appreciate Dr. Anestis joining me on the show today for the discussion, and I hope he’ll come back on the show, even if it’s on a topic that could lead to a more fiery debate instead of finding some points of agreement.

Dec 04, 2021 11:30 AM ET