A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s (JAMA) Network Open by The Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center, argues suicide by firearm rates are higher in counties with more gun shops. Except when they aren’t.
The authors apparently contradict their own findings in the results alone. Suicide rates “were higher and increased more rapidly in rural than in large metropolitan counties.” Also, the presence of firearms retailers in rural counties is not associated with an increase in county-level suicide rates.
Beyond the Gun
This might be why the authors’ conclusions have nothing to do with gun shops. “The study found that suicide rates have increased across the nation and most rapidly in rural counties, which may be more sensitive to the impact of social deprivation than more metropolitan counties.”
They continue with a note that improving “social connectedness, civic opportunities, and health insurance coverage” have the potential to reduce suicide rates.
While their findings on the prevalence of firearms retailers fell apart for rural areas, there were real conclusions in this study that may have actionable lessons for policymakers. The findings that didn’t fall apart: higher deprivation areas have higher suicide rates, as do areas with low social capital, high social fragmentation, low health insurance coverage, and high percentages of veterans.
Rather than irrationally blaming the tool used in these tragedies, lawmakers have a chance to address these root causes. For example, higher deprivation counties are lacking in areas such as education, employment, and housing quality. Areas with lower social capital are missing things like arts and nature facilities, recreation sites, and business/political/civic associations.
Firearms Fund Rural Conservation
We know that the firearms and ammunition industry is the number one source of conservation and wildlife preservation funding in the U.S., through an excise tax paid on every firearm and all ammunition purchased. With that in mind, it stands to reason that promotion of healthy pursuits in nature such as hunting areas and shooting ranges would be one option to improve the problems with social capital. Oddly enough, we don’t see academics considering this in their research topics.
It’s clear there is an underlying bias in research questions posed by so many in recent years. Of course, it comes as no surprise that even when the carefully crafted questions don’t quite pan out for the gun control crowd, we still see headlines out of anti-gun outlets such as The Trace, “Prevalence of Gun Stores Linked to Higher Suicide Rates, Study Finds.”
Increasing suicide trends is a major crisis in the U.S. today. And the firearms and ammunition industry is working to reduce these tragedies through partnerships with groups like the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Department of Veterans Affairs.
We know the answer isn’t closing down all federally licensed firearms retailers, but is in coming up with Real Solutions for safer communities. We hope lawmakers will also read beyond the misleading headlines and help address the actual problems in our communities.
Elizabeth McGuigan is Director of Legislative and Policy Research at the National Shooting Sports Foundation.