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.