A recent front-page article in The Salt Lake Tribune detailed the progress, or lack of progress, of three gun bills before the Utah Legislature.
House Bill 114, proposed by Rep. Cory Maloy of Lehi is a “stand your ground” type bill that “makes it explicit that a person’s failure to retreat during an attack ‘is not a relevant factor in determining whether the individual ... acted reasonably.’" HB114 is already heading to the House floor. Meanwhile, languishing in committee are House Bill 209, “Extreme Risk Protective Order,” put forth by Rep. Stephen Handy of Lehi, which would allow for disarming an individual who is acting dangerously or perceived as a threat to self or others, as well as House Bill 17, “Firearm Violence and Suicide Prevention” put forth by Rep. Steve Eliason of Sandy, which would provide education for firearm safety, education for suicide prevention, help with procuring “cable-style gunlocks and firearm safes.”
We in the Utah Psychiatric Association believe that most people know that suicide is a leading cause of death among our children and adolescents, but we wonder how many people know how strong the association of suicide and guns in the home is.
This association between gun ownership and suicide was studied, with results published in the “American Journal of Preventive Medicine” last year, under the title, “Household Gun Ownership and Youth Suicide Rates at the State Level, 2005 – 2015.”
What is most compelling from the study is a table of youth suicide rates, household gun ownership, prevalence of depression, suicidal plan and suicide attempts. Here there was a direct and independent correlation between suicides and gun ownership, with the other variables having no statistical difference throughout the states.
The implications are that here in Utah, we have about 254 youth suicides per year by gun shot, whereas, if our gun ownership level were cut to that of New Jersey’s, the lives of about 173 young people would be saved per year.
Another implication of the study is that not only is there an association between youth suicide and gun ownership, there is a further association among youth suicide, gun ownership and impulsivity. (Suicide by slower, less lethal means like overdosage of medication did not go up.) Because of that association with impulsivity, we might be able to make a case for not taking guns out of the household, but by locking them up so securely, that access could be granted only to adults with biometric safes that could only be unlocked with perhaps fingerprints, retinal scans, or maybe two consenting adults simultaneously turning keys (like in missile silos).
OK, that last suggestion is pie in the sky, too expensive or cumbersome. But biometric safes with quick access to the rightful owner? Amazon alone lists about a dozen of them.
We here in Utah are pro-life. How ironic is it then that one gun bill that will probably cause more deaths is progressing speedily through the legislature, while two other gun bills, which could save 173 lives per year or more, are languishing in committee?
Michael A. Kalm, M.D., is the public affairs representative of the Utah Psychiatric Association.