GMercyU’s Campus Conversations Series Continues With a Discussion on Firearms, Suicide, and Global Pandemic

October 14, 2021
GMercyU Campus Conversations Series on Firearms, Suicide, and Global Pandemic

GMercyU hosted the second event of this year’s Campus Conversations Series titled “Firearms, Suicide, and the Global Pandemic: What do we know and what can we do?” on Thursday, October 14, 2021. The event was sponsored by the School of Arts and Sciences. 

Patrick McGrain, PhD, Associate Professor and Coordinator of the Criminal Justice program, served as moderator once again. The featured panelists include Assistant Professor of Psychology at Gwynedd Mercy University John Gunn, PhD and Executive Director of the New Jersey Gun Violence Research Center Michael Anestis, PhD.

“There’s certainly an increase in risk in the year following a firearm purchase. But most folks when they die by suicide using a firearm have had that firearm for 11 years. The issue isn’t that the firearms came into the home and now everyone immediately started using them in suicide attempts. The issue is that firearms came into their home and they’re going to stay there,” said Michael Anestis, PhD, Executive Director New Jersey Gun Violence Research Center.

Suicide Trends in the U.S.

Generally, suicide rates in the U.S. have risen over the past 30 years. Within the 1970s-1980s the rates declined, but the 1990s brought a pretty steady rise until about 2019 where rates started to drop off again. It’s uncertain whether this drop off will be sustained or not, but the panelists suspect it will not continue. 

Relationship Between Firearms and Suicide

There is no evidence to suggest that firearms make a happy person suicidal. Conversely, the panelists discussed how firearms make a suicidal person more likely to die. First, having a firearm in a household increases the risk of suicidal death three to five times, according to The Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence. Additionally, according to the same study by The Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence, every two to three firearm deaths are suicide and over half of suicide deaths in the U.S. are committed using a firearm. Still there is no indication that there is a causal relationship between firearms and suicide. The issue is lethality.

Characteristics, Factors, and Lifestyles of Those Whom Committed Suicide by Firearm

There are risks at multiple levels. Simply purchasing a gun does not make an individual suicidal. A common characteristic amongst individuals who have committed suicide is that they have the perception they are a burden to those around them. These individuals feel their death is better off for those around them. 

Another common factor is having disrupted interpersonal relationships. Other impacts are more on a cultural level such as job loss or not obtaining a living wage. The demographic of individuals who have committed suicide by firearm are primarily men or older adults who live in rural areas, according to The Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence. Often times they are former service members or first responders. These groups have a history of using firearms and are comfortable with this method. Traditional masculine mentality or warrior-like culture can be seen pushing away the idea of getting help.

Suicide by Firearm During the Pandemic

No data is currently available for 2020, but as for 2019 there was no rise in suicide rates overall, and preliminary data suggests a potential decline at the aggregate level for 2020. Available data on the disaggregate level highlights that white deaths have decreased while blacks and other marginalized groups still show similar rates to years prior. 

How to Reduce Firearm Violence in America Without Taking Away Civil Rights 

Funding research is a huge way to help decrease firearm violence. In the long-term, educational programs and trying to influence legislation are ways to help this crisis. Networking with the communities who own firearms is important and effective messaging goes hand in hand with this approach. Messaging needs to be effective enough to saturate the community, not because they feel forced to, but because the norms have shifted. It’s important to understand the community we’re trying to reach and who these people want to hear from

“I think the most bang for your buck is going to be things we can do that involve direction interaction. Advocating for safe storage, making the case for why putting barriers between the individual and crisis and their firearm is an important thing,” said John Gunn, PhD, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Gwynedd Mercy University.

GMercyU’s Campus Conversations Series continues on November 11, 2021, with a live event titled “Gun Violence in America: Patterns, Characteristics, and the Criminal Justice Response.” Learn more here.