KSL INVESTIGATES

Gun deaths hit record high in the US; most in Utah are suicides  

Jun 9, 2023, 7:25 PM

SALT LAKE CITY – Gun deaths in the United States hit a record high in the first year of the pandemic. Now a new report shows they climbed even higher in 2021.  

Homicides and mass shootings typically dominate the headlines. But the majority of these fatal shootings – both nationally and in Utah – were suicides, shows a new analysis out this week from Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Gun Violence Solutions.  

Its authors noted that many believed the numbers would dip after the 2020 spike.   

“This, unfortunately, was not the case,” they wrote.  

Nationally, more than 26,000 people used guns to take their own lives in 2021. And in Utah, gun deaths are overwhelmingly suicides, accounting for 364 out of 450 fatal shootings in 2021, according to the report.  

Researchers considered data gathered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from that year, the most recent available. They said it “paints an alarming picture of the epidemic of gun violence.”   

Nancy Halden with the Gun Violence Prevention Center of Utah called the numbers “very disturbing.”  

They show Utah remains in the top 20 states with the highest suicide rate. The Beehive State ranks 16; compared to 12 a year earlier.

But Halden says the change doesn’t signal big improvement.   

“It’s not that Utah got better,” Halden told KSL. “It’s that everybody else got worse.” 

The report notes the national rise in fatal shootings coincided with record gun sales.  Halden is concerned many of those new owners aren’t locking up the weapons like they should be.  

“They can fall into the wrong hands easily. That’s the problem,” Halden said. “It’s just easy for the teen who may be going through just a very bad moment to grab that gun and make a rash decision that changes everybody’s life.” 

In Utah, those with a gun at home are more likely to use the weapon in an attempt on their own lives than they are to shoot someone else, Michael Staley with the Medical Examiner’s Office said.  

If you’re going through a dark time, Staley said, you can ask a loved one, friend or even a police department to hold your guns for a while. You can also offer to do the same for someone else.  

“What we’re ultimately trying to do is put time and distance between them and that really lethal mechanism,” Staley said, “so that they have a chance to tell somebody how they’re feeling so that they have a chance to get help, and because we know treatment works.” 

The report also notes that shootings were the leading cause of deaths among children and teens in 2021, outpacing the death toll from car crashes and cancer. The KSL Investigators reported last year that a similar trend played out in Utah.    

The Johns Hopkins report outlines potential solutions, including certain measures voted down by Utah lawmakers in recent years. Those include so-called red flag laws allowing police or courts to remove weapons from those deemed a danger to themselves or others, as well as safe-storage laws requiring gun owners to keep weapons locked away from children.

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Suicide prevention resources

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or exhibiting warning signs, call, text, or chat the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 which is answered 24/7/365 by crisis counselors at the Huntsman Mental Health Institute. All calls to legacy crisis hotlines, including the old National Suicide Prevention hotline, 1-800-273-8255, will also connect to a crisis care worker at the Huntsman Mental Health Institute as well.

Additional resources

  • SafeUT: Parents, students, and educators can connect with a licensed crisis counselor through chat by downloading the SafeUT app or by calling 833-3SAFEUT (833-372-33888)
  • SafeUT Frontline: First responders, including firefighters, law enforcement, EMS, and healthcare professionals can chat with a licensed crisis counselor at no cost 24/7/365 by downloading the SafeUT Frontline app.
  • SafeUTNG: Members of the National Guard can chat with a licensed crisis counselor at no cost 24/7/365 by downloading the SafeUTNG app.
  • Utah Warm Line: For non-crisis situations, when you need a listening ear as you heal and recover from a personal struggle, call 1-833 SPEAKUT 8:00 a.m.-11:00 p.m., 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
  • The Huntsman Mental Health Institute offers a wide variety of programs and services including suicide prevention and crisis services, hospital treatment, therapy & medication management, substance Use & addiction recovery, child & teen programs, and maternal mental health services including birth trauma, pregnancy loss, infertility, and perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.
  • org is a statewide effort to prevent suicide by promoting education, providing resources, and changing Utah’s culture around suicide and mental health. They offer resources for faith-based groups, LGBTQ+, youth, employers, firearm suicide prevention, and crisis and treatment options.

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Gun deaths hit record high in the US; most in Utah are suicides