Durham County

Here's what one gun-suicide expert would like to see after student walkouts

In the wake of school shootings, we search for solutions, but giving teachers guns isn’t a viable one.
In the wake of school shootings, we search for solutions, but giving teachers guns isn’t a viable one. The Washington Post

Local students plan to join a national school walkout Wednesday to support stricter gun laws after the shootings last month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Another form of gun violence is suicide. At a conference in Chapel Hill last year, Jodi Flick, a clinical associate professor in the UNC School of Social Work, offered some statistics about guns and suicide.

Two-thirds of gun deaths in the United States are suicides and one-third homicides. At that time, more than 43,000 people killed themselves each year, Flick said. About 85 percent of them were male, and half of those are over 50. One in five were veterans, she said.

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One of Flick's areas of expertise is suicide prevention and intervention. On the eve of the Wednesday walkouts, we asked her for her thoughts about guns and suicide in the context of recent events. Here are some of her condensed responses.

On current gun suicide numbers: They have remained steady since 2017. "I wish I could say that it has changed dramatically. ... Unfortunately, everything is pretty much the same."

On prevention measures: If you have a firearm in your home, you or someone in your household is three times more likely to commit suicide with a weapon. "If you think about someone who is in despair and pain, and in that moment of desperation, what they reach for makes a life and death difference," Flick said. If a loved one in your home is suicidal, one of the best preventive measures is locking up pills, poisons and firearms.

On regulations: "From the research, what we know is that if you think of lethal, easy methods, any time you can restrict access to them it's going to prevent suicide." Waiting periods and other measures "are a valid prevention method, both at the individual level and at the universal level."

On Wednesday's walkouts: More people die from gun suicides than mass shootings, but if recent events "prompt people to do the responsible, effective things we know will lower [gun] suicides, then I'm all about that."

Cliff Bellamy; 919-419-6744; @CliffBellamy1
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