Last month’s special special session of the Idaho Legislature had one core topic - the pandemic - on its call, but another subject emerged after the legislators convened:
There’s no way any legislation relating to guns would have been added to the call in any event, but an extra layer of thought about the subject might have developed if lawmakers and others around the Statehouse had seen a new, just-out national report from a group called Everytown Research and Policy.
Released on Thursday, its paper on “The Rise of Firearm Suicide among Young Americans” was national in focus, but it did include state breakouts. The highest rate (per 100,000 population) of suicide by firearm in any state was Alaska (19.78) , which was no surprise since that state long has led the nation in suicide numbers. The second-highest was Wyoming (13.74), then Montana (11.84).
Then, in fourth place out of the 50 states, with a rate of just over 10, came Idaho.
The report noted, “Research has shown that access to firearms is strongly associated with higher youth (ages 10 to 19) suicide rates: For each 10 percent increase in household gun ownership in a state, the youth suicide rate increased by more than 25 percent. States with the highest rates of firearm suicide among young people are Alaska, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and New Mexico. States with the fastest-growing firearm suicide rates among young people over the past decade include Oregon (124% increase), Virginia (109%), Michigan (106%), Idaho (105%), and Missouri (105%).”
The report suggested generally that the numbers have been rising. Idaho is one of the areas where the phenomenon of “deaths of despair” - deaths connected to psychological roots with such direct causes of alcohol, drugs and suicide - have been on the rise, and a report earlier this year on that subject by the Well Being Trust and the Robert Graham Center, prompted in part by the Covid-19 developments, seems to dovetail with the new one.
The despair deaths are usually meant to refer to deaths among older white people, mainly in lower income levels. But the Everytown report zeroed in on some of the suicide causes for younger people that could tie in with those: “such as increased anxiety and depression, social media, cyberbullying, and stigma. We need more research to understand what is driving these increases.”
Idaho’s despair death rate seems to be growing; that study projected that Idaho’s death rate would rank 10th highest for the 50 states in the coming decade, based on existing trends.
The Gem State obviously is not the only place where these issues are important, but they’re a little worse than in most states. And the atmosphere surrounding the pandemic is making all of these things worse, not better.
The culture of gun ubiquity in Idaho (and most of the other high-suicide states) is a contributor to that. (In case you’re wondering why the report focused on firearm suicides: Did you know that just four percent of suicide attempts not involving a gun result in death, while about nine out of 10 attempts using a firearm do end in death?)
The Everytown paper recommended some measures that might help. They weren’t suggesting anything heavy-handed, rather such ideas as improved (and maybe required) gun safety and storage, red flags and so forth.
Quite a few lives are at stake here. The subject certainly would be useful for the Idaho Legislature to take up at its next regular session (not that it necessarily will) and it might almost seem to justify a special session.
Except, of course, that we now know what the attitude toward guns would be at the Statehouse: Locked and loaded. Unfortunately, that’s not an especially helpful mindset when it comes to averting suicide.