Resources for Journalists on Responsibly Covering Gun Suicide are Available Here
Today marks the Inaugural National Firearm Suicide Prevention Day on Tuesday, September 13th.
Falling in the middle of Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, the day was created to spread awareness about the growing gun suicide crisis and promote resources to prevent gun suicide. Everytown and its grassroots networks, Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action, and the Everytown Survivor Network are committed to honoring gun suicide survivors and advocating for proven solutions to prevent gun suicide including extreme risk laws, waiting period legislation, in- and out-of-home secure storage of firearms, and increased access to mental health and medical services every day of the year.
Firearm suicide is a preventable public health crisis, and one of the most effective things we can do to help people in crisis is to remove access to firearms. Six out of every 10 gun deaths are suicides, and having access to a firearm triples someone’s risk of death by suicide. Most people who attempt suicide do not die — unless they use a gun.
Gun suicide permeates both rural and urban communities. The rate of firearm suicide in rural areas is more than double the rate in urban areas. And yet, according to Everytown’s new city gun suicide report, the rate of people who died by gun suicide in cities increased 11 percent over the past decade and now make up an average of over four in 10 city gun deaths – nearly 20 people in cities die by gun suicide every day. Researchers continue to be worried about the surge of gun sales, the number of unsecured firearms at home, and the ongoing stress and anxiety of our communities — especially among young people and veterans whose rates of gun suicide have risen over the past decade.
This September, Everytown for Gun Safety is honoring gun suicide loss and advocating for proven solutions to prevent gun suicide, including extreme risk laws. Extreme risk laws allow loved ones or law enforcement to intervene by petitioning a court for an order to temporarily prevent someone in crisis from accessing guns. When a person is in crisis and considering harming themselves or others, family members and law enforcement are often the first people to see the warning signs. Researchers estimate that a suicide is averted in approximately one in ten gun removal cases brought under Connecticut’s extreme risk law. Additionally, Indiana saw a 7.5 percent reduction in its firearm suicide rate in the 10 years following the enactment of its extreme risk law. 19 states have already implemented extreme risk laws. However, they are only effective if fully implemented.
Properly securing and storing firearms can also help prevent gun suicide. Research shows secure storage practices play a vital role in reducing the risk of gun violence. Storing firearms securely protects children and adults by preventing unintentional shootings and gun suicides. It is estimated that if half of households with children that have at least one unlocked gun switched to locking all their guns, one-third of youth gun suicides and unintentional deaths could be prevented, saving an estimated 251 lives in a single year. Eight states and the District of Columbia, and several cities have laws mandating that owners secure their firearms. Public awareness is also critical to ensuring that guns are stored securely. The Moms Demand Action Be SMART program is one of the many models that can be used by public officials and community members to build awareness of the importance of firearm storage. Schools notifying parents about the laws and importance of secure firearm storage can also prevent gun violence. Individuals at an increased risk for suicide, or in suicidal crisis, can put more time and space between themselves and any household firearms by voluntarily storing firearms outside the home, such as at a gun dealer or with an eligible family member. Gun storage maps have been developed by several states and localities to increase public awareness of out-of-home storage options.
Earlier this year in July, 988, the new Suicide and Crisis Lifeline three-digit national dialing, texting, and chat code crisis hotline for anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts or mental health-related crises went live.The hotline provides 24/7, free and confidential services. The 988 dispatch system routes the dialer to a trained crisis counselor available based on their zip code – similar to the 911 dispatch system.
More information on gun suicide is available here. Additional resources for gun suicide survivors are available here. To speak with a policy expert, Moms Demand Action volunteer and/or Students Demand Action volunteer, please do not hesitate to reach out.
By covering this public health crisis, reporters can inform readers about life-saving resources and highlight policy solutions, but they should do so in a way that does not increase stigma or contribute to possible contagion effects. If your news organization decides to cover these tragedies, please consider following the advice below for journalists covering suicide.
The recommendations below are from the Recommendations for Reporting on Suicide website, which was developed by suicide prevention experts, international suicide prevention and public health organizations, schools of journalism, media organizations and key journalists as well as Internet safety experts:
- Report suicide as a public health issue. Including stories on hope, healing, and recovery may reduce the risk of contagion.
- Include resources. Provide information on warning signs of suicide risk as well as hotline and treatment resources. At a minimum, include the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and Crisis Text Line (listed below) or local crisis phone numbers.
- Use responsible language such as “died by suicide” or “killed him/them/herself,” rather than stigmatizing and shame-inducing “committed suicide” language.
- Emphasize help and hope. Stories of recovery through help-seeking and positive coping skills are powerful, especially when they come from people who have experienced suicide risk.
- Report the death as a suicide; keep information about the location general.
- Report that coping skills, support, and treatment work for most people who have thoughts about suicide.
- Describe suicide warning signs and risk factors (e.g. mental illness, relationship problems) that give suicide context.
- Research the best available data to show the scope of suicide and use words like “increase” or “rise” instead of words that can overstate the problem.
- Provide context and facts to counter perceptions that the suicide was tied to heroism, honor, or loyalty to an individual or group.
The full list of recommendations on how to report on suicide is here.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, you can call or text 988, or visit 988lifeline.org/chat to chat with a counselor from the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, previously known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline provides 24/7, free, and confidential support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress anywhere in the US.