More than 85 percent of Maine’s firearm deaths in 2020 were suicides and men were eight times more likely than women to use a gun to end their lives, according to a new report obtained by the Press Herald this week.

A total of 154 people were killed by firearms in Maine in 2020, including 132 who died by suicide, 19 who were shot by someone else and three who were shot accidentally. Another 39 people were sent to the hospital for gunshot wounds and survived, the report states.

The statistics are contained in the first annual report resulting from a new state law that directs the Maine Department of Health and Human Services to work with other agencies to collect data on gun violence in Maine.

The finding that suicides accounted for the vast majority of gun deaths in Maine supports data collected by national gun safety advocates, who say Maine’s rate of suicide deaths using guns is significantly higher than the national average. In Maine, the rate of death from a gun suicide is 9.2 per 100,000 people, compared to a rate of 6.9 per 100,000 people nationwide, according data collected by Everytown for Gun Safety.

Rep. Lori Gramlich, an Old Orchard Beach Democrat who sponsored the bill that led to the report, said Tuesday that she was struck by the number of suicides by firearms and the fact that 90 percent of those who shot themselves were men or boys. She said she hopes the annual reports will inform future policymaking by providing actual data, rather than anecdotal evidence.

“The most alarming data point in this report is regarding suicides and that’s a mental health issue,” said Gramlich, a licensed master social worker. “For me that crosses a pretty big intersection in terms of what we’re doing with our very fractured mental health system in the state of Maine. It’s an opportunity to really build on how we can strengthen our mental health system because we’re going to have some data that’s really going to show what’s happening with suicides, in part as a result of firearms.”


The report was sent to members of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee on June 1 and released to Press Herald this week.

The committee’s chairman, Sen. Ned Claxon, D-Auburn, said the committee may not receive a formal presentation of the report until a new Legislature is seated in January.

The report comes as the gun control debate has risen across the United States after a mass shooting that killed 19 elementary students and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas. That shooting and other mass shootings around the country have Congress considering additional gun control legislation, including increasing the minimum age to purchase firearms and so-called red flag laws that would allow authorities to prohibit someone in crisis from possessing guns.

While murders and mass shootings are driving much of the gun debate nationally, gun violence in Maine is driven by suicides, prompting calls for a more integrated mental health system and less access to firearms by people who are experiencing a crisis.


Maine is investing more than $230 million in state and federal funding in the state’s behavioral health workforce and promoting suicide prevention efforts, according to the DHHS.


Overall, Maine is below the national average when it comes to gun violence because the state’s homicide rate is low. Maine ranks 26th in the country for gun violence, with about 10.4 gun deaths per 100,000 residents, compared to the national average of 15 deaths, according to Everytown for Gun Safety.

However, Maine sees a much higher rate of suicides and suicide attempts using firearms. Based on Everytown’s national data, 89 percent of Maine’s gun deaths are suicides compared to 59 percent nationally.

Gramlich’s bill requiring the annual reports took effect on June 26, 2021. It requires the DHHS and other agencies to report firearm fatalities and hospitalizations, including details about homicides, suicides and unintentional shootings, as well as the demographics of the victims.

According to Maine’s initial report, 118, or 89 percent, of the suicides were men, a majority of whom were over the age of 45. And 13 of the suicides, including one female, were people between the ages of 10 and 24.

Greg Marley, director of suicide prevention at the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Maine, said he is not surprised by the number of firearm suicides in the state because he also works with families that have lost loved ones to suicide.

But he hopes the annual reports, which are sent to the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee, will increase public awareness about the role firearms play in suicide rates and ways to prevent them.


“In the prevention training work we do and in the protocols we develop and support around the state, there’s always a piece around counseling on access to lethal means for somebody who is in crisis and developing safe firearm storage for someone who is struggling,” Marley said. “Putting time and distance between the person who is struggling and access to a lethal means is a key piece.”

For Marley, the issue is not about “gun control” or being “anti-firearm.” It’s more about responsible gun ownership and being anti-suicide, he said.


“Like with so many things, firearm ownership and access has become so polarized politically,” he said. “These are efforts to keep people safe who are in crisis. And it’s our uncles, and our brothers, and our fathers and our grandfathers that are most at risk.”

Gramlich’s bill calling for the annual reports drew overwhelming support during a public hearing from individuals and gun-control groups like Mom’s Demand Action and the Maine Gun Safety Coalition, as well as health groups such as the Maine Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Geoff Bickford, executive director of the Maine Gun Safety Coalition, testified that information contained in the report is available elsewhere, but is not easily accessible. He said hospitals are required to report gunshot wounds, but that information is not publicly available. And annual information compiled by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention can take months or years to become public.

“That information is currently unavailable in any useful, timely, or complete form in this state,” Bickford said. “At present there is no central location to obtain the data this bill seeks.”

Gramlich said the initial report only sets a baseline for policymakers and that she’s anxious to see future reports, which should help identify trends.

“I’m really looking forward to what the data tells us next year,” she said, “then we can really do some comparative analysis and that’s really going to tell us the story.”

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