Gun suicides now outpace fatalities from car crashes in Colorado, indicating both better vehicle safety and a worryingly high suicide rate.
Gun deaths in general surpassed motor vehicle fatalities in 2009, the Daily Camera reported, but only in 2012 did gun-related suicides exceed deaths in auto accidents. Last year 432 Colorado residents died in car crashes, while 532 took their lives with a gun.
The suicide rate in Colorado jumped nearly 20 percent from 2011 to 2012, the biggest increase in the past twelve years.
The reasons for Colorado’s high—and increasing—suicide rate are not clear. States in the American West are generally home to the nation’s higher suicide rates. Research at the University of Nevada indicates that people who live in those states feel more isolated, due to the sparser population or because many leave their families and friends behind to move out West.
Shannon Breitzman, director of the Injury, Suicide and Violence Prevention Branch of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said that the value of independence in Western states is a contributor.
"In these Western states, you pull yourself up by your bootstraps," Breitzman said. "There is a lot of value placed on being independent instead of being interdependent."
Breitzman said that suicide prevention needs to be seen as a public health measure, with mandatory suicide training for teachers and medical professionals so they can recognize the signs. The easy means of suicide—guns—can also be removed from a person during a time of crisis.
"People do not want to die, they want to end their pain," Breitzman said. "A suicidal crisis is very short lived, about 72 hours. If you can intervene at some point and remove either the means and/or offer resources, then you can prevent suicide."
Gun control is a fraught issue in Colorado, the state where the mass Columbine and Sandy Hook shootings took place. State Sen. Evie Hudak said this week that she would resign to avoid a possible recall election after receiving major criticism from gun rights advocates for signing gun-control measures. Hudak was not the only one to experience backlash: two other state lawmakers were ousted for their support of the new gun-control laws, which include ammunition magazine limits and expanded background checks.