Defensive gun uses far outnumber suicides with guns and the availability of guns has no effect on suicide rates. Nevertheless, from time to time over the last 28 years, gun control supporters have tried to discourage people from owning guns by suggesting that gun suicides outnumber defensive gun uses. Last week was one of those times, all premised upon the notion that gun suicides are a public health epidemic with which radical gun control activist Vivek Murthy, President Obama's nominee for the post of U.S. Surgeon General, is imminently qualified to contend.
On March 20, Bloomberg Businessweek tried to build a case for Murthy by publishing an article titled What the NRA Doesn't Want You to Know, which claimed that "gun ownership may be more likely to lead to instances of suicide or homicide than self-defense" and which faulted the NRA for opposing the use of taxpayer money to fund politically-motivated research by gun control supporters in the public health field. It claimed, "The NRA, however, cannot abide more research" and "over the past two decades the NRA has made it abundantly clear that it views quality research as a threat to its agenda." Meanwhile, on the same day, The Atlantic published a similar pro-Murthy article titled "Guns Far More Likely to be Used in Suicide Than in Killing Bad Guys."
We'll take the claims one by one, and begin with the implication in Bloomberg's title.
The fact is, we have often pointed out that half of suicides are with firearms and half are by other means, and that studies have generally shown that in jurisdictions with relatively low gun ownership rates, people who want to commit suicide do so by whatever means are available. Hawaii, which has perhaps the lowest firearm ownership rate among the states, had the highest non-firearm suicide rate in the country in 2010, 4.6 times higher than its firearm suicide rate. Even in California, where gun ownership is higher than in Hawaii, suicides by non-firearm means are a particular problem. Reuters reports that San Francisco is planning to spend $66 million to install an enormous net system, to stop people from killing themselves by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge.
We have often pointed out that Japan has virtually no firearm ownership, but also has a much higher suicide rate than the United States. In 2008, USA Today reported that "A suicide fad is sweeping Japan. Hundreds of Japanese have killed themselves this year by mixing ordinary household chemicals into a lethal cloud of poison gas that often injures others and forces the evacuation of entire apartment blocks. The 517 self-inflicted deaths by hydrogen sulfide poisoning this year are part of a bigger, grimmer story: Nearly 34,000 Japanese killed themselves last year, according to the Japanese national police. That's the second-highest toll ever in a country where the suicide rate is ninth highest in the world and more than double that of the USA, the World Health Organization says." In 2013, The Diplomat reported, "For the last fourteen years at least 30,000 Japanese have killed themselves annually." That's the same number as in America, which has 2.5 times Japan's population.
We have also often pointed out that defensive gun uses are far more likely to result in a criminal being frightened away, rather than being killed, and reminded gun control supporters that the purpose of defense is to prevent injury or death to a defender or other innocent person, rather than to kill a criminal.
We have often pointed out the flaws in the misleading comparison that gun control supporters try to make between defensive gun uses and fatal gun misuses. In 1991, award-winning Florida State University criminologist Gary Kleck called the comparison "one of the oddest statistics in the gun control debate," "an exercise in ingenious speciousness," and "a breath-taking non-sequitur," and judged it "not a meaningful measure of risk for the average gun-owning household."
We have many times cited independent studies conducted by competent, honest researchers, and will do so here. Impact Evaluation of the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act of 1994 found that firearms and magazines affected by the Feinstein/Clinton "assault weapon" and "large" magazine ban had rarely been used in gun murders prior to the ban, and that the ban had little, if any, affect on crime thereafter. Impact of handgun types on gun assault outcomes: a comparison of gun assaults involving semiautomatic pistols and revolvers found that criminal misuse of semi-automatic pistols has less negative consequences than criminal misuse of revolvers. Firearm Use by Offenders and Firearm Violence, 1993-2011 found that most gun criminals get guns through theft, black market sources, or friends and family, and that less than one percent get guns from gun shows. First Reports Evaluating the Effectiveness of Strategies for Preventing Violence: Firearms Laws and Firearms and Violence: A Critical Review found no evidence that gun control reduces crime in this country, and the Library of Congress' "Report for Congress: Firearms Regulations in Various Foreign Countries," May 1998, LL98-3, 97-2010, found that gun control did not reduce crime in 27 foreign countries.
For some reason other than sheer bias, of course, The Atlantic cited the radically anti-gun Violence Policy Center (formerly the New Right Watch) led by former National Coalition to Ban Handguns and Amnesty International staffer Josh Sugarmann, for the proposition that in 2010, there were only 230 felons killed by private individuals defending themselves with firearms. As Kleck has pointed out, however, the FBI's figures are based upon initial police reports and do not reflect the number of homicides determined by the courts to have been justifiably in self-defense.
NRA encourages all gun owners to continue contacting their U.S. senators in opposition to Murthy's nomination. You can contact your U.S. Senators by using the "Write Your Lawmakers" tool at www.NRAILA.org. You may also contact your Senators by phone at (202) 224-3121.