Dr. Cheryl Healton, the dean of the College of Global Public Health at New York University, sees guns as a public health issue on the same level as tobacco. And she should know: She was once the head of Legacy, the foundation that created the famous truth campaign that is credited with helping drastically reduce the number of young people who pick up smoking.
During her interview on "Salon Talks," Dr. Healton debunked common myths about suicide rates and gun use.
Is it true that people who don’t have guns will just find some other way to commit suicide?
That is not the case. For example, someone who attempts to kill themselves with a gun and happens to survive, what do you think the chances are that they commit suicide ever in the future? Under 10 percent.
Frequently, the use of a gun for a suicide attempt is 90 percent successful. So that’s the first thing. It’s 90 percent successful; the chances that it will ever happen again are less than 10 percent. So that is a myth, utterly and completely.
On why people who attempt suicide often don’t try again
The other that’s a myth is that the people who try to commit suicide are people that have long histories of mental illness. Many do. But many do not. Many suicides occur because of an incident where someone literally becomes temporarily unhinged, in an act of just frankly temporary madness, takes their own life.
Why reducing gun access will reduce the number of successful suicide attempts
In public health, having the means to do that is absolutely key. If you can minimize the means, then you can minimize the extent of the problem. It’s very clear, there’s no question about it, that we could bring the suicide rate down, particularly among men, who more commonly use guns, by making guns less readily available.
The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence reports that 90 percent of suicide attempts by gun are successful, compared to only 3 percent of other common suicide attempt methods.
Watch our full "Salon Talks" conversation on Facebook.