Suicide is now the second leading cause of death nationally, as well as in Maine among youth age 10-24. The reasons behind most suicides are complex, and in adolescents they are often laced with an additional layer of impulsivity. Experts believe that most suicides are preventable by doing two key things: aggressively identifying and treating mental illness, and restricting access to means.

Close to 50 percent of suicides in all populations are by firearms. Studies indicate having a firearm in the house substantially increases the risk of suicide. When we add potential alcohol or drug use to the mix, the risk is substantially magnified.

In a landmark study conducted by emergency physicians from Emory University, 64 boys ages 8-12 were divided into groups and observed through a two-way mirror in a room where three guns were hidden: two brightly colored squirt guns and one .38-caliber semi-automatic dismantled handgun with a sensor that indicated when the trigger depressed.

Before the boys entered the room, parents were surveyed as to whether their children had been educated about guns and whether they seemed interested in guns.

• Seventy-five percent of the boys found the real handgun. Fifty percent who found the real handgun were unsure if the real gun was real or fake. Fifty percent who found the gun pulled the trigger.

• Parents’ assessment of interest did not correlate with who pulled the trigger; prior gun safety instruction did not deter pulling of trigger.


• Only one boy prevented the others in his group from touching the real gun and left the room to get an adult, and he was teased a great deal by his peers.

Data collected following suicides by a firearm suggest that not all firearm suicides are preceded by an episode of depression. Some firearm suicides are highly impulsive acts following a particularly traumatic event such as a breakup with a girlfriend or boyfriend or an argument with a parent. Teens can be very impulsive, particularly males. Having firearms in a place where they are easily accessible is increasing the risk of impulsive self-harm or harm to others.

Most youth who attempt suicide will not die by suicide but will receive treatment and go on to live full and productive lives. However, this is not likely to be true if the suicide attempt is with a firearm. Suicide attempts with firearms are lethal 85 to 90 percent of the time. There is no question that restricting access to firearms decreases suicide. Some other key facts to consider:

• Seventy-five percent of firearms used in a suicide or suicide attempt come from the residence of the victim or a friend or relative, according to a study published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

• Storing ammunition locked and in a separate place and keeping guns locked and unloaded has been shown to decrease the odds of suicide and unintentional injury among youth, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found.

• States with safe-storage laws have seen close to a 10 percent drop in youth firearm suicide rates, according to another study published in JAMA.

Removing access to firearms using extreme risk protection orders,  imposing a waiting period after the purchase of a firearm and locking and storing firearms  and ammunition appropriately have all been shown to decrease suicide rates.  With L.D. 1312, L.D. 1099 and L.D. 1033, the Maine Legislature will consider laws that will do just these things.

Suicide at any age is a horrible, devastating tragedy for the immediate family, friends and the community left behind.

The Maine Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly supports legislation to protect our youth by putting safeguards in place to reduce intentional and accidental injury and death by firearms and encourages Maine legislators to do the same. Our children’s lives are worth protecting.

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