‘How Did We Not Know?’ Gun Owners Confront a Suicide Epidemic

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SPOKANE, Wash. — Shanna Torp has never been uneasy around guns. Her father, a retired trucker, kept a gun in the cab when he was on the road. When Ms. Torp, a debt collector from Post Falls, Idaho, goes camping, she takes a rifle to ward off cougars and bears.

But after her mother died following heart surgery, her 80-year-old father became despondent, Ms. Torp told suicide-prevention workers at a gun show here last autumn. There had been several suicides in Post Falls, she said. She added pointedly: “And he’s got quite a few guns.”

Ms. Torp has reason to worry. Gun violence kills about 40,000 Americans each year, but while public attention has focused on mass shootings, murders and accidental gun deaths, these account for little more than one-third of the nation’s firearms fatalities. The majority of gun deaths are suicides — and just over half of suicides involve guns.

According to national health statistics, 24,432 Americans used guns to kill themselves in 2018, up from 19,392 in 2010.

People who kill themselves in this way are usually those with ready access to firearms: gun owners and their family members. Gun owners are not more suicidal than people who don’t own guns, but attempts with guns are more likely to be fatal.

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