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To reduce risk of mass shootings, prevent suicides

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East Bay Times, May 2021

Not much is known about the motives of the gunman who killed nine co-workers at a light rail yard in San Jose on Wednesday. But we do know that he took his own life at the scene of the crime. Mass killers saving their last bullet for themselves is a recurring theme. Forty percent of public mass shooters commit suicide, according to the Associated Press/USA Today/Northeastern University Mass Killing Database.

The fact that so many public mass shooters are suicidal provides hope that some of these horrific crimes can be prevented by focusing specifically on suicide prevention. Although the common perception is that homicides and mass shootings predominate, about two-thirds of the nearly 40,000 gun deaths annually in the United States are suicides. If we as a nation focus on reducing suicides, not only can we save the lives of many of our loved ones, but we may also avert some mass slaughters in the process.

Research has shown that the risk a household member will commit suicide is increased threefold when there is a gun in the home. This is not to say that we need to take guns away from law-abiding gun owners who show no signs of being dangerous. However, lives could be saved by a public education campaign (ideally endorsed by gun-rights organizations) recommending that gun owners: 1) temporarily remove a firearm when a household member is in crisis, and 2) safely secure handguns and long guns bought for sport or protection, especially if there is a minor in the home.

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