Shotguns Often Play Tragic Role in Rural Teens' Suicides: Study

TUESDAY, Feb. 18, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- Could stricter safety rules for rifles and shotguns help prevent suicide?

Researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore analyzed nearly 4,000 firearm suicides and found that long guns, not handguns, are more often the method of choice for youths and people in rural areas.

Their analysis of Maryland data for 2003 to 2018 revealed that about 45% of children and teens used long guns such as rifles and shotguns to kill themselves, compared to 20% of seniors.

"It's concerning to see that it's not just handguns, but long guns that are used commonly in youth suicide," said study author Dr. Paul Nestadt, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences. "Many of the safety protections that we have in place around the country typically don't apply to long guns, and the data suggest that our strategy needs to be modified."

Long guns were used in 52% of rural firearm suicides, compared to 17% in urban counties, the study found. Suicide by rifle rose 60% during hunting season, when rifles may be easier to come by.

"In the midst of a suicidal impulse, a person will use what they have. Firearms are particularly lethal. If one is easily available, that will be the method of choice," Nestadt said in a Johns Hopkins news release.

Many states have no minimum age for owning long guns, and federal background checks are only required when buying a firearm from a licensed gun dealer. Requirements for permits and safety courses vary from state to state, the researchers noted.

Nestadt pointed out that many young people receive rifles as gifts, especially during hunting season. He suggested gun locks or secured storage cabinets accompany such gifts.

"Just adding an extra protective step could be enough of a barrier to protect their family member from making an impulsive decision," Nestadt said.

The study was recently published in the journal Injury Epidemiology.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more on suicide prevention.

SOURCE: Johns Hopkins Medicine, news release, Feb. 10, 2020

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