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Gun safety important in preventing teen suicides, Arizona group says

(Pixabay Photo)

PHOENIX — A new study from Boston University shows states with high gun ownership tend to have high youth suicide rates.

The study’s findings, published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, were based on data from 2005 to 2015.

“My initial reaction was a bit of excitement that research is going in this direction,” Nikki Kontz, clinical director of Phoenix-based nonprofit Teen Lifeline, told KTAR News 92.3 FM on Wednesday.

“It’s something that we in suicide prevention have long been thinking about.”

According to the study, it is the first paper to look at the relationship between gun ownership and youth suicide rates at a statewide level while controlling for states’ differences in prevalence of youth suicide attempts.

“What’s interesting is that there are still actually quite a few states with higher gun ownership than Arizona that actually have lower suicide rates as well,” Kontz said.

“The study really starts to point us to a direction but doesn’t really come to any conclusions yet, because there’s so much more to suicide than just something as simple as gun ownership and whether or not that should happen or not.”

In Arizona, just over 32 percent of households owned guns, and the average youth suicide rate from 2005 to 2015 was 6.8 per 100,000 youths, according to the study.

Arizona’s youth suicide rate over the decade ranked 11th-highest among the 50 states, and its gun ownership rate ranked 37th-highest.

Kontz said that in 2016, Arizona fell to No. 22, and 2017 numbers haven’t been released by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention yet due to the government shutdown.

In any case, she said, it’s important for parents to prevent teens from getting access to guns in household, especially if they have expressed suicidal thoughts.

“What (the study) does do is points us to an area in which we can do better in educating our parents and our communities in terms of just gun safety. And, again, that’s an important distinction — this is not gun control, this is gun safety,” she said.

“What we do know about youth and suicide is that kids that are depressed and having thoughts of suicide, or kids that are just having thoughts of suicide, are at higher risk if there’s a gun in the home. And a lot of that has to do with storage.”

Kontz said she’s often found that parents don’t know that their kids know where guns and ammunition are stored in the house, or that they know the combinations to safes.

Parents should store ammunition separately from guns, change combination locks often, use codes that their kids can’t easily guess and frequently move any keys to safes to new locations, she said.

“It’s just about creating a distance in time, from when someone might be feeling that immense pain in a moment of crisis and creating a distance from a method that could hurt them and is highly lethal,” she said.

“Feeling are transitory, so if we can create this space where they can get a to a moment of more clarity or to ask for help or for there to be intervention before they’re able to get their hands on their guns, we know that saves lives.”

Editor’s note: If you or anyone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, call Teen Lifeline at 800-248-8336 or the National Suicide Prevention Hotline 24/7 at 800-273-8255. 

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Griselda Zetino contributed to this report. 

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