The gun control debate following the murder-suicide by a Kansas City Chiefs player -- and NBC commentator Bob Costas' bold statement on the matter -- got me thinking about a tangent issue I have covered a lot in the past: the relationship between gun access and teen suicide.
There is ample research showing that states with higher rates of gun ownership tend to have higher rates of teen suicide. A study out of the University of Washington also showed that teen suicide was less likely in homes with guns when the owners locked the guns and bullets in separate locations. Many communities have now given out free trigger locks to gun owners, hoping to make guns harder to access and use in the transient moments when people consider taking their own lives.
But the latest data shows that the solution when it comes to teen suicide, anyway, isn't quite as simple as locking up the guns. Firearms used to be the most common means of teen suicide in Minnesota by far. But since 2005, guns have accounted for less than half of the deaths. Hanging/strangulation is now the most common means in Minnesota. (There were 45 teen suicides in Minnesota in 2010; 14 involving guns and 21 involving hanging. The annual number of teen suicides overall in Minnesota has hovered around 40 to 45 for the past 30 years.)
"If you just address firearms, you're going to still lose people," said Dan Reidenberg of the Bloomington-based SAVE suicide prevention organization. "We cant just think about it in terms of addressing one mechanism, because when someone is in that much pain and suffering, and hurting so deeply, they will look for other means. They will most often look for what is easily accessible."
Prevention campaigns still need to focus on firearms, which account for roughly half of the suicides nationally, he said, but other means can be restricted as well. Barriers can be erected on bridges from which people have jumped. Windows can be sealed on college campuses. In terms of restricting access to sources of strangulation, parents can take steps, he said, by limiting access to cords or ropes or plastic bags -- especially for teens who have been depressed or thought about suicide.
Gun restriction "is effective, but it's not the only thing that is effective," Reidenberg said. "That's the most important message."