Trigger Warning: Gun Suicide in the Americas Is Off the Charts

Sep 04, 2014 at 11:21 AM ET

Guns don’t kill people—people who want to kill themselves and have ready access to guns kill people. And they do more often in the Americas than anywhere else.

In a report on suicide released Thursday, the World Health Organization said almost half of all suicides in the high-income countries of North and South America are committed with a firearm. In similarly high-income countries elsewhere, firearms account for only 4.5 percent of all suicides. That means suicide by gunfire is 10 times more prevalent in the Americas than in the rest of the world.

How many of these suicides could be prevented by eliminating access to guns? A lot. In a proposed plan to reduce suicides by 20 percent from 2010 levels, the WHO said 3,612 lives could potentially be saved in a single year by preventing suicidal people from accessing firearms.

There is “a close correlation between the proportions of households owning firearms and the proportion of firearm suicides,” according to the WHO. The study mentioned that in countries such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Norway and the United Kingdom, legislation restricting firearm ownership has reduced the amount of suicides committed with firearms. The organization recommended several ways to restrict firearm ownership, including tightening rules on availability and educating communities on the regulations.

Statistics show that there’s about one gun in the U.S. for every person. As of 2009, there were around 310 million firearms in the U.S., according to a Congressional Research Service report from November 2012. The 2012 census showed the U.S. population at 313.9 million. That’s the highest gun ownership rate on the planet.

The latest WHO statistics serve as a reminder of the suicides that are happening in the U.S. with the current gun access legislation. And background checks are not fully serving their purpose. A News 21 analysis of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System published in August found that it fails to identify people who are dangerously mentally ill. It’s supposed to stop gun crime, but states are not required by law to submit their mental health records to the system, per the News 21 analysis. Millions of people who have been admitted into hospitals for mental health issues are not in the system. The ones who did make it into the system are deterred from buying a gun. Less than 2 percent of all gun purchases blocked by the FBI in the last 16 years had anything to do with mental health.

“Research over the last decade shows that it’s nearly impossible to predict which individuals will commit gun violence, let alone find them through NICS,” the report said. It might be more effective to prevent firearm-related suicides by restricting gun access in general if the system has shown tremendous failure over the years.