STL Post-Dispatch Opinion: Gun violence is a community health issue

by Jill Schupp and Deb Lavender

You’ve been there. When the subject of guns is brought up in “mixed” company, the conversation either becomes volatile or stops altogether. When it comes to reducing gun violence, people seem to stand clearly on one side of the issue or the other: minimize access to firearms, require background checks, close the loopholes, and get rid of assault weapons or enforce current laws, allow people to protect themselves and their property, keep arms away from the mentally ill, and open carry so people know you have protection.

This past fall, the two of us hosted an event “Gun Violence as a Community Health Issue.” Dr. William Powderly of Washington University spoke about the need for research and data to provide information about the root causes of this public health issue in order to develop its cure. After all, it is the process scientists would use to cure other health threats. This approach to the public health issue of gun violence is nonpartisan and does not presume that those who want to limit access to guns are any more correct in their approach than those who want to expand it.

Consider the focus and expenditures on the Ebola virus that affected only four people in the U.S.; or the Zika virus that has also drawn our attention and our funding and is currently identified in about 300 U.S. patients. With the gun violence issue being one of national scope and concern, a comprehensive study would best be funded and authorized by the federal government.

Thus far, with all the talk about how to limit gun violence, funding has been lacking as a federal priority. The first step is to hold our U.S. Senate and House members accountable for making this funding for needed research a priority.

And we have another step in mind. When it comes to gun violence, most of our thoughts and conversations center on mass shootings, urban violence or targeted murder. However, a good deal of evidence suggests that more of our focus should be on self-inflicted gunshot wounds.

In 2010, 60 percent of gun deaths in the United States were caused by completed suicides. Since the 1990s, the rate of suicides by gun has been rising. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among our young people, ages 15 to 24. In 2014, 42,773 Americans completed death by suicide.

Research into suicide prevention and awareness makes two facts clear. First, nearly 90 percent of suicide attempts with a gun are fatal. This is compared to about a 2 percent completion rate using other methods. Second, when a person contemplating suicide is interrupted during suicide ideation, it is often possible to stop the attempt and keep the person from trying again. Not having access to the almost-always fatal tool during the time of crisis can help to keep the person in crisis alive.

Suicide prevention is one of the compelling reasons we have for filing Senate Bill 1122 and House Bill 2666, legislation that calls for a brief “waiting period” before a gun purchase is finalized. The purchase of a firearm would require that a 24-hour period pass between the time the initial purchase arrangements are made and when the purchaser receives the firearm. This 24-hour time frame allows a person to move past the time period of extreme stress or emotion that might move him or her to suicide by firearm. We know that 90 percent of people who survive a suicide attempt do not attempt suicide a second time.

This legislation will not limit people’s access to firearms. It simply puts into place the time needed to calm the head and the heart, in order to move people away from an irrevocable crime or self-inflicted death. It will save lives. That is good enough for us.

State Sen. Jill Schupp is a Democrat from Creve Coeur. State Rep. Deb Lavender is a Democrat from Kirkwood.

This post was written by