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Photo Credit: Francisco Anzola/Flickr

US Gun Deaths Reach Highest Level in Nearly 20 Years

It’s easy to look at daily news stories about U.S. gun violence as merely media sensationalism rather than a meaningful indication of actual trends. Unfortunately, new data from the Centers for Disease Control shows that, yes, gun deaths have been gradually rising — and 2017 experienced the largest peak in nearly two decades.

New CDC data shows that 39,773 Americans lost their lives to firearms in various ways in 2017. By comparison, data going back to 1999 shows that there were 28,874 gun deaths that year. The 2017 figures indicate a whopping 38 percent increase over the intervening years.

Back in March, FBI figures showed that active shooter incidents were indeed on the rise; these are incidents where individuals wielding firearms with malicious intent prompted a law enforcement response. However, while these instances of gun violence tend to garner the most public attention — especially if they result in a large number of victims — they actually account for far fewer deaths than another type of gun violence: suicide.

Of the nearly 40,000 Americans to lose their lives to guns last year, 60 percent — or 23,854 individuals — died from self-inflicted gunshot wounds. And, sadly, this is not a new development. Though this side of gun violence has often been brushed under the rug, some states are finally taking action and proactively preventing gun suicides with demonstrable success.

In 2018, Delaware became the latest state to implement “red flag laws,” now joining 12 other states where law enforcement officers have the ability to temporarily restrict the purchase of or access to firearms for individuals deemed at high risk of violence or self-harm. Though this process varies from state to state, most generally involve family or friends of an individual seeking a court order by demonstrating safety concerns.

Earlier this year, studies conducted in the first two states to enact red flag laws: Connecticut, in 1999, and Indiana, in 2005. Both states experienced a significant drop in gun suicides after implementation of these laws — by 14 and 7.5 percent, respectively.

These results don’t come as a particular shock, though. Suicide attempts with firearms are generally the most successful compared to other common methods. And, just as important, restricting access to firearms ultimately curbs suicide attempts in general by removing a virtually instant method from what is often a momentary impulse.

Following the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, earlier in 2018, eight states enacted red flag laws — and a handful of other states are currently considering similar legislation. This represents no small step forward when it comes to common-sense gun safety laws.

And given the results in other states with red flag laws, this could actually go a long way toward slowing — or even reversing — the rising number of gun deaths across the country.

Originally published at Care2.com on Jan. 2, 2019.

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