Laws don’t prevent anything. Laws can only punish transgression.
This applies to safety belts, airbags, OSHA and food standards. The purpose is to encourage voluntary compliance as the law is incapable of preventing non-compliance.
In the case of firearms, we are attempting to control the behavior of people that aren’t inclined to obey the law. Whatever benefits they hope to gain from their actions outweigh the threat of sanctions.
That’s as close to a Great Kozmik Truth as it’s possible to be without a pillar of fire and stone tablets.
There are actually some regulatory changes that I believe might be beneficial. These don’t require new legislation controlling firearms, merely Congress granting the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to make some changes in the rules governing licensing requirements and mandating safety resource awareness provisions for licensed dealers.
The other change I would make to to require that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention improve its methods for obtaining and reporting fatal and non-fatal injuries. It has come to light that the CDC estimates of non-fatal injuries are likely incorrect due to errors in its sampling methodology. Since these estimates are often used in studies and as a reference in policymaking, it is critical that the data is as close to accurate as possible.
These are all changes possible at the federal government level and with a low probability of legal challenge.
The reason I used California as an example of the disconnect between gun laws, gun supply and the incidence of suicide is that it demonstrates that gun laws don’t seem to impact the overall rate of suicide.
In 1999, the state of California began passing increasingly restrictive gun laws. From 1999 to 2016, the percentage of firearm-related suicides fell from nearly 55% to about 43%. The rate for women dropped from just over 31% to slightly more than 18%. Good news, huh?
Not really; the total suicide rate rose 16.5% for men and 30% for women.
I will confess to an error in my earlier comments. I went back and checked my numbers and found an error. In fact, the national rates for both men and women rose at a faster rate than they did in California. There was a decline in firearm usage by men and women but the drops weren’t as large as they were in California.
However, California’s share of total U.S. suicides, though proportionately lower than its population would indicate, remains remarkably consistent, year after year. If the gun laws made a significant difference in the total number of Californians ending their own lives, we would expect to see a more obvious impact.
Since the recent shooting at the Borderline Bar & Grill in Thousand Oaks revealed that California’s much-touted red-flag laws aren’t really being implemented we really have no way of knowing whether they will help.
One non-legislative idea is already in the works. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has partnered with the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the firearms industry’s trade group, to develop an educational program and campaign for licensed gun dealers to help them identify signs that a person buying a gun may have suicidal intent.
One of the unfortunate downsides of red-flag laws is that persons in need of help may avoid seeking it due to the possible embarrassment of having police come to their residence to confiscate their guns. Aversion to surrendering their firearms under any circumstances may also be an avoidance factor. Sufferers may perceive that they are being punished and sink further into depression, possibly turning to an alternative method of suicide.
My younger son and I have both lost people we knew to suicide. One by gun; one by hanging. The guy who used a gun was in his 30s; the young man who hanged himself was 17.
Lumping suicides in with murders to make a big “gun violence” number is a ploy I personally find repugnant.
According to Lifeline, a charitable suicide prevention service in Australia, the suicide rate in that country in 2015 was 12.6 per 100,000 population. According to the CDC, the U.S. rate for the same year was 13.8. The Australian figure was the highest in ten years. No reason for the increase was given.
So what was that again about the applicability of the Australian example?