2. Firearm Violence

2.3 Suicide

In 1991, suicide accounted for one death out of every 7,400 Canadians, with suicide by firearm one out of every 24,000 [37]. The overwhelming majority of all firearm-related deaths in this country are suicides. Between 1970-1991, 75% were suicides, 15% were homicides, 6% were accidental death by firearm, 3% were undetermined, and 1% were legal intervention by police. [38].

Suicide, like homicide and fatal gun accidents, is a predominantly male phenomenon, with men outnumbering women almost four to one in Canadian suicide statistics. In 1991, men commited suicide with a firearm 15 times more often than women [39]. Women rarely use firearms to commit suicide, prefering drug overdoses, gassing or hanging [40]. A 1992 Justice Departmetn report suggests that alcohol may have been involved in as many of 50%-60% of all cuicides between 1986-1989 [41].

Between 1926-1991, 68% of all the suicides in Canada did not involve firearms [42]. The 1977-1991 Canadian suicide rate was 40% higher than it had been during the Great Depression, World War II, and the Korean conflict; periods of significant social upheaval which are typically associated with elevated levels of suicide and homicide [43].

Despite far more restrictive firearms controls, Canada's suicide rate for the period 1979-1990, was an average of 17% higher than the United States [44]. The 1990 suicide ratre for Canadians age 15-19 years and 20-24 years, were 10% and 19% higher, respectively, than for the same age groups in the United States [45].

The presence or absence of gun controls has had no impact on the suicide rate, especially for persons under the age of 24 in Canada. It was an average of 50% lower in the decades preceding the introduction of restrictive gun control in 1978 [46]. It is interesting to consider that Japan, which all but prohibits firearm ownership by civilians, has a cuicide rate higher than Canada and the United States, and that despite extremely restrictive gun control laws the majority of European nations exhibit suicide rates substantially higher than either Canada or the U.S. [47].

While a minimum of one of every four Canadian households contain firearms, almost every home in Canada has at least one automobile which could be used to produce the exhaust gas necessary for carbon monixide poisoning [48]. The majority of the population lives within easy access to tall buildings, bridges, and cliffs - all "high places" eminently convinient for jumping from. There is certainly no absence of available bodies of water in Canada suitable for drowning. Every Canadian home has ropes and belts which can be used to hang oneself, including knives and razors perfectly acceptable for suicide by "cutting/piercing" instrument.

When people commit suicide with a firearm, it's the calculated and end result of a choice made between other available alternatives [49]. A suicide with a firearm is more likely to succeed because the person attempting the suicide with the gun wants it to suceed. As the preceeding discussion indicates, there are and always have been equally effective alternatives to the use of a firearm in suicide.

"Few people would argue, however, that is a worthwhile goal of public policy merely to shift suicides from one method to another, without producing any net reduction in the total number of suicides. Therefore, establishing the suicide reduction effectiveness of gun control or other policies aimed at reducing availability of one means of suicide must entail demonstrating that such efforts caused a reduction in the total suicide rate as well as the rate of suicides using the restricted method. So far, no studies of restrictions on the more lethal suicide methods have accomplished this. " [50]

Kleck, Point Blank

Firearm prohibitionists restrict their arguments to "firearms-related" suicides and homicides as if there is some great moral distinction to be made between someone fatally hanged, poisoned, or stabbed as opposed to fatally shot. Gun control policies that merely substitute one mode of death for another do not provide a morally compelling argument.

Prohibitionists aren't disturbed by the evidence that restrictive firearm controls have not reduced suicide or violent crime to the levels exhibited in the decased preceeding their introduction. Their arguments simply become that gun control legislation has important "symbolic" benefits, and, in any event, previous legislation wasn't "strict enough" - convenient excuses which contribute little to an educated discussion on the issue.