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Utah Lawmakers Seek to Slow Growing Rate of Firearm Suicides

A report commissioned by the Utah Legislature finds that simple steps such as trigger locks could prevent many of the state’s firearm suicides. (Wikimedia Commons)
A report commissioned by the Utah Legislature finds that simple steps such as trigger locks could prevent many of the state’s firearm suicides. (Wikimedia Commons)

November 19, 2018

SALT LAKE CITY — A new study finds that 85 percent of deaths involving firearms in Utah are suicides. And state officials hope to use that data to develop strategies to prevent those deaths.

The report, developed for the Utah Legislature by the Harvard School of Public Health, showed that while Utah has one of the lowest rates of murder by guns in the country, suicide by firearm is a growing public-health problem. Kimberly Myers, a suicide-prevention administrator with the Utah Department of Human Services, said lawmakers plan to develop policies to make gun owners more responsible about how and where they store their weapons.

"The data in the report give us a new way to talk about the problem of suicide with firearms,” Myers said. “And so hopefully we can create community education strategies that help people understand the risk of injury or death by firearms. "

Myers said Utah also has a high rate of legal gun ownership, and the report links data from a variety of sources to paint a picture of the relationship between firearms and suicide. She said statistics show many firearm suicides occur during times of high stress or conflict when a gun is readily available. And now lawmakers are hoping to establish requirements for responsible firearms storage.

Public health officials say taking steps such as requiring trigger locks on guns and storing ammunition separately could prevent a significant number of suicides. Myers said there is also a need to educate family and friends on how to help loved ones in crisis.

"When people are going through a crisis in their lives, it's OK to reach out and say, 'I know you're going through a lot. Sometimes when people are going through relationship problems or job loss, other people hold onto their guns for them, and I'm wondering if I can help hold onto your firearms,’" she said.

The report also concluded that health care providers should counsel their patients regarding the dangers of easy access to firearms and that most firearm suicide victims could pass a gun-ownership background check.

"We really encourage gun owners to take in this information and consider the relative risk of self-defense and protecting their families to the incidence of suicide in our state and to make good decisions about firearms storage in their home,” Myers said.

Lawmakers emphasize that there are no plans to restrict the legal sale of guns or confiscate firearms from anyone legally entitled to own them. The Legislature opens its 63rd General Session in January.

Mark Richardson, Public News Service - UT