A reader close to the issue writes:
Clearly that chart was indirectly demonstrating that having a gun in one’s home is much more likely to be associated with suicide than with actually killing someone in self-defence. It is not by any means a definitive chart on “the overall impact of firearms on health.” Your reader remarked that the positives of guns include deterring an unknown number of murders and violent assaults. He disregards the fact that the negatives are massively underestimated, not overestimated, by the chart.
The negative health effects of guns are not just suicides but also the homicides (11,078 in 2010, according to the CDC), the accidental deaths of children and adults (554 in 2009 – see this excellent NYT piece), and the cost and long-term impact of non-fatal gun injuries (73,505 in 2010 per the CDC). It is estimated to cost over $2 billion per year to treat patients with firearms injuries. That does not count the losses in productivity and the chronic healthcare needs of these patients. As for suicides, 19,392 of the 38,364 suicides in the US in 2010 were from firearms. Using a firearm in a suicide attempt is lethal in 85% of patients, far more lethal than any other method.
I am an emergency physician and a medical toxicologist, so I’ve seen up close the costs of suicide.
I have taken care of many patients who have tried to kill themselves, including a 16-year-old boy who fatally shot himself in the head after his girlfriend broke up with him, as well as many who overdosed on medications but recovered. Guns are so lethal so quickly that even if the impulse to commit suicide is transient, the person is often successful. They don’t get a chance to change their minds. That’s why having access to a gun in the home is a risk factor for suicide. The data from an Army Times article back this up:
Troops overseas must abide by the restrictions of host nations, according to military policy. Accordingly, U.S. troops in South Korea, Germany, Italy and elsewhere are virtually without access to personal firearms. Suicides have been fewer among those troops.
Last year, there were three Army suicides among the 25,000 soldiers posted in Germany, one among 19,200 in South Korea and none in Italy, where 3,900 soldiers are based. Meanwhile, U.S. bases often see double-digit suicides each year. There were a dozen among the 30,000 GIs at Fort Campbell, Ky., last year; 17 at Fort Hood, Texas, which has 46,500 soldiers; and 10 among the 20,000 G.I.s at Fort Stewart, Ga., according to Army statistics.
“The takeaway message is we have to do everything we can to limit access to firearms by someone who is depressed, they’re suicidal, struggling with thoughts of self harm,” said Robert Gebbia, executive director of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. “It’s just good common sense.”
The NRA has blocked research on these issues because it is not in their interest for people to know the truth. We don’t have the data on gun deaths and gun injuries because they have blocked funding for the research.
I hope you will not leave your other reader’s comments as the only important points to be made about the chart and about the negative health impact of guns. It is time that our politicians developed some backbone and did what is right for the American people rather than for the gun industry. It is ridiculous that they would oppose Dr. Murthy because of his belief that guns are a public health issue. He would be a very poor physician indeed if he did not see the obvious health costs of guns to our society.