Guns used in most suicides

RICHMOND - In 2012, a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserve shot himself in the head at a shooting range in Colonial Heights after renting a .40-caliber Smith & Wesson.

The sound of gunshots at shooting ranges is pervasive. But the sound of suicide is becoming more common than anyone would hope for. And it is happening all over the country.

"Every day in the United States, 22 veterans succumb to suicide - losing their personal battle to invisible wounds of war," Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said in a news release earlier this year.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States - not far behind kidney disease, influenza and pneumonia.

According to Virginia's chief medical examiner, 1,062 suicides were committed in the state in 2013, the latest year for which data is available. Of that number, more than 55 percent involved a firearm - mostly handguns.

Those statistics reflect a nationwide trend: CDC data shows that more than half of Americans who commit suicide use a gun.

Firearms are the most common method of suicide, followed by hanging and drug use. One reason may be that it is easy to get a gun in Virginia.

According to the Virginia State Police website, you can purchase a rifle or shotgun at the age of 18 and a handgun at 21 from a licensed firearms dealer. You simply must have two forms of identification, undergo a background check with no criminal record and pay a small processing fee.

While gun sales typically require background checks, gun rentals do not - so almost anyone can get their hands on a firearm at a shooting range. It is common for people to rent different guns at a range to test them out before deciding to buy a specific model. But this also means severely distraught and mentally unstable people can have access to a weapon to kill themselves at gun ranges.

For example, a 22-year-old Hampton man shot himself at a shooting range last year after renting a .38-caliber revolver from a pawn and gun shop.

There is no database on where gun suicides occur; however, the media have reported numerous incidents at shooting ranges in recent years.

According to the Orange County Register in California, 64 suicides took place at shooting ranges in Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties between 2000 and 2012.

A Web search brings up multiple examples of gun range suicides across the nation, including in Virginia.

Last year, an 18-year-old man from Newport News rented a military rifle from a pawn and gun shop to use at a shooting range. With the last round of ammunition, he turned the gun on himself.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015