Smart guns that can be activated only by an authorized user can reduce suicides, particularly among youth, homicides and accidental deaths, gun-safety advocates said Thursday at a Seattle symposium.
Developing so-called smart guns that can be activated only by an authorized user is key to reducing suicides among youth and violent deaths in general, gun-safety advocates said Thursday at a Seattle symposium.
“Smart guns are not going to reduce gun deaths to zero in the United States, but they will offer us a very, very substantial benefit, the savings of lives,” Stephen Teret, director of the Center for Law and the Public’s Health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said in an interview.
Teret and others were at the symposium sponsored by Washington CeaseFire, a state organization dedicated to reducing gun violence, and the Seattle-based Youth Suicide Prevention Program, to discuss causes and risk factors for youth suicide and prevention by reducing access to firearms.
Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for youth 12 to 21 years old in the United States, the two groups said, citing data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accidental injuries are the leading cause.
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An average 5,400 suicide attempts by youth occur per day, the groups say.
Firearms are the most common method, accounting for 4,500 suicides annually for all youth, or 46 percent, according to the groups.
About 85 percent of suicide attempts with firearms are fatal, compared with 5 percent for other means including poisoning, suffocation and falls, the groups say.
“It is firearms that really turns the suicide attempt into a suicide fatality,” said Ralph Fascitelli, board president of Washington CeaseFire.
While the safest home is one without a gun, Fascitelli asserted, smart guns would put a “big dent’ in youth suicides and accidents without violating Second Amendment rights.
Smart guns, highlighted by the development of a pistol that can be fired only if the user is wearing a wireless wristband broadcasting a specific frequency, have pitted gun-rights and gun-control advocates, according to a June 15 Los Angeles Times story.
While gun owners broadly support smart weapons, staunch Second Amendment supporters fear the guns would make it easier for government to control the sale and use of lawful firearms and question the reliability of smart guns, the newspaper reported.
Gun shops won’t sell them, according to the story.
The technology also could include fingerprint recognition, hand biometrics or coded locks, the newspaper reported.
A Washington CeaseFire survey of 508 parents nationwide this month found 72 percent of those owning guns were open to the idea of smart guns, and a majority would be willing to pay a 50 percent premium for them, according to results released at Thursday’s symposium.
The survey also showed that 7 of 10 parents didn’t know or believe that a gun in the home raises the risk of suicide 500 percent, according to a Harvard University author.
Only 12 percent reported they had asked their neighbors, where their children played, if they had a gun in their home.
Overall, parents expressed optimism that suicide was not inevitable among young people showing suicidal tendencies, according to the survey.
Teret, of John Hopkins, likened the advent of smart guns to the development decades ago of seat belts and air bags in vehicles.
While no one can predict how many lives would be saved, in part because firearms are so prevalent, smart guns hold great potential to reduce suicides, particularly among youths, homicides and accidental deaths, Teret said.
Homicides would be reduced because roughly 400,000 guns are stolen in home burglaries in the U.S. every year, Teret said. If such guns were inoperable, they could not be used, he said.
Smart guns would also keep children who find guns from firing them, avoiding accidental deaths, Teret said.
Such deaths are often portrayed in the news media as a “freak accident,” when they are actually foreseeable and preventable, he said.