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Suicide, Guns and the Gift of Time

Our mission at the Laborers’ Health & Safety Fund of North America involves creating awareness about how to protect the lives of LIUNA members and their families. On construction jobsites, that mission often centers on preventing safety hazards that lead to falls, electrocutions or workers being struck by objects or exposed to toxic substances. Unfortunately, it also involves working to prevent deaths by suicide.

LIUNA General Secretary-Treasurer and LHSFNA Labor Co-Chairman Armand E. Sabitoni

“A staggering number of families, including those within the LIUNA family, have lost a loved one to suicide,” says LIUNA General Secretary-Treasurer and LHSFNA Labor Co-Chairman Armand E. Sabitoni. “The numbers make it clear. Construction workers are at higher risk for suicide than workers in any other industry. The LHSFNA will continue to explore all avenues to reduce the prevalence of suicide among LIUNA members and all construction workers.”

Since 2004, over half a million men, women and children in the U.S. have taken their own lives. Any discussion about suicide must at some point involve a discussion about guns, since there is no doubt about the link between the two. More Americans were killed by guns in 2017 than ever before at 39,773. The majority of those deaths were suicides. Although they tend to get less attention than gun-related murders, suicides have long accounted for the majority of U.S. gun deaths. As you can see in the chart below, suicides make up a much larger percentage of firearm deaths than even homicides, the next highest category.

Risk Factors for Suicide

Suicide is rarely caused by any single factor; it involves multiple factors. While many people who die by suicide have a mental health condition, there are often several additional contributing factors, including:

Creating Time for Those in Crisis

Most people attempt suicide impulsively during periods of acute crisis and use whatever method is most readily available. The best way to help protect a person at risk of suicide is to remove all lethal means, including firearms, from the home during the period of suicide risk.

The unique lethality of guns and the easy availability of firearms to those in distress make gun suicide attempts far more likely to result in death than other types of attempts. Studies show that 85 percent of gun suicide attempts end in death, while less than five percent of non-firearm suicide attempts result in death.

By removing firearms from a home, we can give a suicidal person time – time to move beyond the crisis moment and regain healthier ways of coping, time to receive help, time for the attempt to be interrupted or time for the person to change their mind. Our ability to buy time is a life-saving measure when it comes to suicide.

What to Do for a Person in Crisis

If you suspect someone you care about may be a danger to themselves, take the following steps:

  • Talk with the person. A discussion about removing lethal means can communicate that you care enough to take that extra step to ensure their safety.
  • If the person lives with you or is a family member with access to your home, store your firearms away from home until the person has recovered.
  • Do everything in your power to remove firearms from the person’s home. This is not about confiscation; it is a life-saving precaution. Once the crisis is over, the firearms can be returned.
  • If you are feeling at risk, give your gun to another person during an at-risk or crisis period.

A common question is, “If someone wants to end their life with a gun and doesn’t have access to one, won’t they find another way?” There is very strong evidence that most people do not shift to a different method when they don’t have access to their chosen lethal method for suicide. In most cases, they will not go on to make an attempt to end their life. The expression “giving the gift of time” is never more true than when that gift helps save a life.

If You or Someone You Know Is in Crisis

Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a 24/7 crisis hotline, at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Text TALK to 741741 to contact the Crisis Text Line and text with a trained crisis counselor for free. Veterans can text 838255 to contact the Veterans Crisis Line.

[Jamie Becker is the LHSFNA’s Director of Health Promotion.]

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