Rural gun deaths exceed urban rates by 28% due to rising suicide rates • Missouri Independent
This article first appeared on The Daily Yonder and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.
A higher prevalence of gun ownership in rural America has contributed to increased suicides, raising the overall gun death rate in rural areas above that of urban communities.
Experts say some legal interventions that have broad public support could help reduce the risk of people hurting themselves or others with guns.
In 2020, the rural firearm death rate was 28% higher than the urban rate. Non-metro counties reported 17.01 deaths per 100,000 people, compared to a rate of 13.19 in urban America, according to CDC reports.
Although urban areas have higher rates of firearm homicides, rural areas have more firearm deaths overall, as suicides account for about two-thirds of firearm deaths nationwide. , said researcher Michael Siegel of Tufts University School of Medicine. Siegel says it’s important to categorize gun deaths into three groups.
“There are gun homicides, there are gun suicides, and then there are unintentional injuries,” Siegel said.
Siegel said the high suicide rates in rural America can be partly explained by the prevalence of gun ownership. While 46% of rural residents report owning guns, only 19% of urban residents report owning guns, according to PEW Center studies.
“Because we know guns are the deadliest way to commit suicide, if a gun is available, a suicide attempt will likely result in death,” Siegel said. “Whereas, if there are no guns, the other methods people might use to attempt suicide are not as lethal.”
Mandatory waiting periods
Siegel said preventative measures such as mandatory waiting periods and red flag laws can reduce gun death rates.
“Suicide is impulsive behavior, so people who might be feeling suicidal, if they can just run to the store and get a gun that day, they can use it,” Siegel said. “But if there’s a mandatory waiting period before they’re allowed to deliver the weapon, then once that waiting period has passed, they may be out of their slump.”
Waiting periods could help rural communities in the American West that have some of the highest suicide rates in the country. Montana’s suicide rate was 27 suicides per 100,000 people in 2019, double the national rate. Sixty percent of suicides were committed with firearms.
From 2019 to 2021, Flathead County, Montana had a suicide rate of 39.3 suicides per 100,000 population. The total gun death rate in 2021 was 22.67 deaths per 100,000 population, 65% higher than the national rate of 13.73.
Waiting periods would not prevent those who already own guns from committing suicide. Given the prevalence of gun ownership in rural America, red flag laws may be more effective in removing guns from people who pose a threat.
Red Flag Laws
The specifics of red flag laws vary from state to state and can go by a variety of different names. They allow law enforcement or concerned family members to petition a court to remove firearms from individuals deemed to be a threat to themselves or others.
In Illinois, for example, family and household members can file a petition to remove an individual’s firearms for up to six months. Some states, on the other hand, only allow law enforcement to go to court for gun forfeiture, with forfeiture periods ranging from six months to a year.
The evidence needed to confiscate firearms also varies. Some requirements are stricter than others, but experts and citizens support these laws as a way to prevent violence.
In rural Dillon County, South Carolina, the gun death rate was 88.91 in 2020. At more than six times the national rate, Dillon had the worst gun death rate of all non-metro counties that year.
In 2020, the gun death rate in Dillon County was 61.9% higher than that of Mississippi County, Arkansas, the second highest non-metropolitan county. But unlike most other rural counties, the high number of gun deaths was the result of homicide instead of suicide.
In 2020, 4.4% of all deaths in Dillon were homicides, compared to just 1% of all deaths in the state of South Carolina. Journalist Braley Dodson said that one in 25 deaths in Dillon County in 2020 was murder.
“In 2021, we saw the number of shootings in Dillon and Darlington counties skyrocket in areas that had maybe one homicide a year…we were seeing several at the start of the year,” said said Dodson in an interview.
Dodson told the Daily Yonder that local law enforcement believes the increase in killings is due to drug-related activity that has recently moved in from elsewhere in the area.
Law enforcement repeatedly told Dodson that “the players are the same.” In other words, the violent perpetrators are often the same people.
“There was a guy on bail for a double or triple homicide who was arrested for another shooting,” Dodson said. “The pandemic delayed some of these trials, and the judges had a certain amount of time to try a person or they were going to release them on bail.”
Although red flag laws could have prevented some of these crimes by confiscating firearms from people who had previously been arrested for gun violence, some violence is committed with stolen guns. That’s why local police departments are urging residents to keep their guns locked, safe, and out of reach of children. Dodson said he found a quarter of the shooting victims in the area last year were under 19.
Earlier this month, a five-year-old Dillon County child accidentally killed himself and his sister after getting their hands on an improperly stored handgun.
Massive support for protective measures
Siegel said support for red flag laws and mandatory waiting periods tended to transcend the political divide.
“It transcends the urban versus the rural, it transcends the red state versus the blue state, it even transcends political parties,” Siegel said. “Even if you only look at Republican gun owners, there is widespread support for [mandatory waiting periods and red flag laws].”
Siegel said he found that more than 60% of Republican gun owners supported the red flag laws.
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., introduced the Extreme Risks Protection Order and Violence Protection Act, a bipartisan protection effort to urge states to enact red flag legislation.” while providing due process protections”.
Rubio isn’t the only Republican to support similar legislation. Senator Lyndsey Graham of South Carolina supported bipartisan protective orders.
“There are a lot of conservative states that have passed domestic violence or red flag legislation,” he said.
In a recent interview with gun safety organization Everytown, Siegel said his research also shows broad support for other safety measures such as background checks. Survey results reveal that 87% of gun owners support background checks for concealed carry permits, while 79% support removing firearms for those subject to domestic violence restraining orders.
“Other than the NRA [National Rifle Association], there’s really no one saying that people known to be a risk to themselves or others should have access to a gun,” Siegel said. “When you talk about these laws that are really about getting guns out of the hands of people at high risk of violence, that seems like a principle that everyone agrees with.”