How Gun Control Could Save the Lives of Middle-Aged, White Men

Barely a week goes by without a mass shooting in America. Each incident adds to the grim tally, yet little is done about gun control. As some point out, when the death of 20 elementary school children can’t bring people together to take action, perhaps nothing will.

Fear often motivates those who oppose restricting gun access. Perceived crime and other dangers understandably creates a desire to protect oneself.

Young African-American men may have the highest homicide rate due to gun violence, but it’s the suicide rate that makes up the largest portion of gun deaths in America – and the majority of the victims are not black.

The mortality rate of white middle-aged men has increased since 1999. During that same period, the mortality rate for other groups, including minorities who have traditionally experienced higher rates of early death, actually decreased. The male victims were aged 45 and older and usually had less than a college education. The early deaths were often due to health issues exacerbated by alcohol and drug use, both of which played a part in the main cause – suicide.

Dr. Garen Wintemute, an emergency room doctor who directs the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California, Davis, notes that on average, guns killed 82 people every day from 2004 – 2014. Of those deaths, 50 were self-inflicted. He notes that “old white guys” are the group with the largest number of gun deaths – 90 percent of which are suicides.

There is little doubt that these deaths showcase a mental health issue, possibly due to depression that can be common during that stage of life. Yet, access to guns makes it easier for an irrational moment to become deadly. Many might argue that gun control laws can’t prevent suicides, however a recently published international study on gun control laws shows otherwise.

The study, published by the Oxford University Press, examined the association between legislation and firearm-related injuries. This epidemiological review analyzed 130 previously published research articles from 10 different countries to determine if firearm legislation impacted the number of injuries and deaths. The types of legislation reviewed included how guns are used, sold, owned and stored, as well as the penalties associated with violating the law.

While the study did not focus on one specific law (i.e. banning assault weapons), it noted that countries with large package laws often had the greatest reduction in firearm-related injuries and deaths. The content of those packages varied across nations and states. However, researchers found that legislation including three specific features had the greatest reduction. All of those laws banned powerful weapons (i.e. assault weapons), required background checks and required permits and licenses for purchase.

Researchers are quick to emphasize that their study does not prove causation. It simply displays a very strong association between stricter laws and a reduction in gun-related injury. Furthermore, they noted that specific laws, such as storage and background checks, showed an association with the reduction of domestic partner violence and firearm-related deaths in children.

Yet, limits to gun access had the greatest impact on the rate of suicide. Several studies show that gun buybacks – in which owners surrender their guns to law enforcement for payment – saw a dramatic reduction in suicides.

The most famous example focuses on Australia’s mandatory buy-back program after the country implemented some of the most restrictive gun laws in the world. While many highlight the end of mass killings in the nation, it is the reduction in suicide rates that is most startling. One estimation puts the overall reduction of firearm-related suicides at 74 percent just ten years after the law was implemented.

Suicide is often an impulsive decision. And a firearm in the home makes it much more likely that an attempt will be fatal.

If the thousands of yearly deaths of children, teens, women and young minority men isn’t enough to implement gun control, perhaps highlighting that older white men are at the greatest risk will change the conversation. After all, as any good salesperson knows, answering the question “What’s in it for me?” can seal the deal. Perhaps valuing one’s own life over others can finally be used for the good of the nation.

Photo Credit: Kieferpix via Thinkstock

73 comments

Sharon S.
Sharon S2 years ago

My issue is not with people that want to kill themselves, but with those who are killing others. those are the ones that we need gun control for.

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill2 years ago

Gun control laws only keep guns out of the hands of law-abiding people. Someone who really wants a gun can and will find a way to obtain one.

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Czerny A.
Czerny A2 years ago

This article is silly on so many levels. Bottom line: if you feel the need, impulsive or well-considered, to kill yourself and can do it neatly, you have the right. Why muddy the issue with gun control? With racial references? Why should someone's desire to end his life affect my right to own a gun? This looks like yet another pathetic overreach of a gun-hater to interfere with private gun ownership. I say if you fear and despise guns, don't get them; but don't try to take away others' right to own them. I am pro-choice in this as well. As for the prevention of suicide by the use of guns, that is merely one method of many. As long as no one else is in your line of fire, it's as quick and humane a way out as any. To propose gun control as a life-saving measure is naive.

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Marie W.
Marie W2 years ago

300 million unregistered guns in USA..

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Randy F.
Past Member 2 years ago

Thanks

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Shirley S.
Shirley S2 years ago

Awful statistics either way.

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Veronica Danie
.2 years ago

Thanks!

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Veronica Danie
.2 years ago

Thanks!

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Donna T.
Donna T2 years ago

Thank you.

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