Report shows correlation between Utah firearm deaths and suicides, offers strategies and safety measures

Stock photo | Photo courtesy of Pixabay, St. George News

SALT LAKE CITY A new legislative report says 85 percent of firearms deaths in Utah are suicides and offers prevention strategies such as temporarily reducing access to firearms for those who are at risk of using a gun in their attempt.

The report, presented Wednesday at the Health and Human Services interim committee meeting at the Utah state Legislature, was prepared by the Harvard School of Public Health using data from multiple Utah state agencies, including the Office of the Medical Examiner, Department of Human Services, Department of Health and Utah Department of Public Safety.

The study was the result of a directive from the 2016 Utah legislative session’s HB 440, Suicide Prevention and Gun Data Study. Co-sponsored by Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Salt Lake City, and Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, the legislation required the state suicide prevention coordinator to conduct a study on violent incidents that involve a gun and report to the Health and Human Services Interim Committee. The bill passed the House by a vote of 73-1 and the Senate by a vote of 19-6.

“This study allows Utah policymakers to make fact-based decisions that address problems specific to our state,” King said in a press release from the Utah Department of Human Services. “We are now in a better position to take meaningful actions to save the lives of Utahns that would otherwise be lost to guns and suicide.”

Key report findings

According to the press release, Utah has already established itself as a leader in bringing gun stakeholders into the conversation about suicide prevention and developing innovative outreach strategies. The HB 440 report establishes Utah as a leader in linking data from disparate data sources to best learn from yesterday’s tragedies and how to prevent tomorrow’s.

Among the findings of the report are the following:

  • 85 percent of firearm deaths in Utah are suicides and most suicides are by firearm.
  • Healthcare systems play an important role in comprehensive, community-oriented prevention.
  • Not all suicides are “planned,” and relationship problems play a major role in suicide deaths.
  • Most people who die by suicide could pass a background check for firearm possession.
  • Homicides are very rare in Utah and when they do occur the perpetrator is most often an acquaintance, family member or intimate partner. Homicides by a stranger are almost nonexistent.

View a summary of findings and proposed actions here.

Kimberly Myers, Utah Department of Human Services suicide prevention and crisis services administrator, said the report highlights the importance of the issue of suicide prevention and gun violence prevention in Utah communities.

“It also represents Utah policymakers and prevention community are leading the way in truly understanding the problem of suicide through this new report,” Myers said. “We believe that diverse partnerships are critical. Healthcare, firearm groups, government and other stakeholders joining in prevention efforts will be our keys to success in tackling this complex and difficult issue.”

The press release also quoted Clark Aposhian, Utah Shooting Sports Council Chairman.

“For too long gun owners have shied away from the issue of suicide as it relates to firearms,” Aposhian said. “Perhaps because we have not had the reliable unbiased data this study presents. By working together, in a trusting atmosphere and in cooperation with partners, the Utah Shooting Sports Council is confident we can reduce suicides while maintaining our right to keep and bear arms – all without government mandates.”

View the full report here.

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14 Comments

  • Comment November 19, 2018 at 12:33 pm

    Utah has a lot of suicides, but there is a voluntary media blackout on reporting them, so it’s hard for us to get a picture of what a huge problem it is here. Maybe if they reported on them it would help convince people considering it to seek help, and realize that they aren’t alone in that they are considering ending their lives. It’s a devastating thing for the survivors, I know that. But is media helping the situation with its voluntary blackout. Yeah I understand the privacy issues. But it only helps to reinforce the stigma and shame or the survivors of suicide victims.

    • Carpe Diem November 19, 2018 at 2:13 pm

      You have a good point. I was talking with someone working in the Fire dept. and we were on the subject, I mentioned there didnt seem to be that many, he said “Oh there were THREE this week”. I was rather shocked. Also seems to be a general black out on overdose deaths. They are more than double the suicide rate currently, but I can’t recall ever hearing about any in the news.

      • Comment November 19, 2018 at 6:37 pm

        These are problems that people don’t want to think about or hear about. I admit I don’t want to hear about suicides or overdose deaths, but I still wonder if not reporting them is doing a disservice to society. I’m not really firm on saying that they SHOULD report them, because I honestly don’t know…

        • Carpe Diem November 20, 2018 at 7:57 am

          The blackout is one end of the spectrum, reporting every OD or suicide, the other. Maybe something in the middle.
          This article touched on it, but focused on “GUNS!” … instead of mental and physical health. Also, a good portion are over 75 – these are elderly folks who likely have very serious health issues. Also have access to guns. A path to reasonable assisted painless suicide would likely shut down a large portion of those gun incidents IMHO. Currently legal in CA, OR, WA, and CO. though I haven’t seen data.

  • Craig November 19, 2018 at 1:01 pm

    It is okay to remove guns as long as the person’s constitutional rights are protected.

    A person was murdered last week with a “red flag” law allowing police tosimply remove weapons because someone reported a concern. This is unacceptable.

  • Carpe Diem November 19, 2018 at 1:49 pm

    “85 percent of firearm deaths in Utah are suicides and most suicides are by firearm.”

    The data here is lacking, at least to real numbers, and I wonder how that compares with Opioid / drug overdoses Statewide.

  • 42214 November 19, 2018 at 7:24 pm

    So we’re talking about firearms being the villian in suicides. 4 states legally allow and condone assisted suicide, Calif, Wash, Colo, and Oregon. These 4 states represent 19% of the total US population. (57,191,148 citizens). The pro choice movement which is much more than 19% of the US population advocates that a women has the absolute right to determine what they do with their body. So we have 19% of the US saying it’s OK to kill yourself and pro choice saying a woman can kill a baby as part of their right to control their body, and we’re worried about the role guns play in suicide. Take away guns and they’ll hang themselves. Take away ropes and they’ll OD, Take away drugs and they’ll jump off bridges etc etc. Don’t blame guns, blame the person and circumstances that brought them to this decision.

    • jaltair November 19, 2018 at 9:06 pm

      True.

    • sheepobserver November 20, 2018 at 5:30 am

      Your other suggested methods are far less likely to succeed. Suicide by gun is statistically the best way to succeed.

      Suicide seems to be a first step for a “cry to help”. The help isn’t likely to arrive if the suicide attempt is made by a gun. It’s much more likely od’s, hangings, bridges, etc, etc won’t be statistically as successful. I think that’s the point of the article. Guns are really effective at killing people. If guns weren’t available to those seeking suicide, there’d be fewer successful suicides as a whole.
      A lot of suicides (I’m guessing here) are a spur of the moment bad decision. Grabbing grandpa’s gun out of the drawer and pulling the trigger doesn’t take the effort the other methods mentioned do, etc., etc…….

      I’m comfortable with saying I’m pro abortion, pro assisted suicide (even unassisted), and pro gun ownership. I own pistols, rifles, and shotguns.
      I’m also comfortable saying, I love living in a free country. Let a person do what they want with their own body.

      Freedom comes with responsibility and a dash of tragedy. I’m fine with that.

      I think that save for the first two freedoms I mention, you’d completely agree with that line of thought.

    • bikeandfish November 20, 2018 at 9:10 am

      Statistically speaking, most people would not choose another way to commit suicide if you removed access to the gun. Its been shown that most suicide attempts are rather impulsive (for lack of a better word) and removing the means is a highly successful form of intervention. As others have pointed out, success rates go significantly down with other methods and most people know that before attempting suicide, ie most people don’t want to live with the serious harm caused by a failed attempt.

      Ree Flag laws and conversations like this are inherently controversial but at some point we have to talk about the issue and its data.

  • youcandoit November 20, 2018 at 12:02 pm

    We need a law here like California and Arizona that if a person is in crisis we can admit them to the hospital. As of now they rely on the person in crisis to admit themselves, obviously that never happens.

    • bikeandfish November 20, 2018 at 1:33 pm

      A person can be involuntarily committed in Utah. There are legal thresholds to be met but it happens often enough. You would also be shocked by how many people voluntarily commit themselves.

    • 42214 November 20, 2018 at 4:05 pm

      You’re referring to the California Welfare and Instituions code 5150 where a police officer or designated health care official can detain a person for 72 hrs for pysche evaluation. Utah already has a similar law in place.

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