SALT LAKE CITY — New analysis shows that gun deaths outpaced motor vehicle deaths in Utah and a dozen other states in 2010. But the information seems to say more about public health and safety standards than it does about gun rights and restrictions.
A recent Violence Policy Center analysis of data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows gun deaths outpaced traffic fatalities in 2010 in Utah, 11 states and the District of Columbia.
"We have made a commitment to reducing automobile death and injury," said Kristen Rand, legislative director at the Violence Policy Center. "We have not done the same with guns. In fact, firearms are the only consumer product manufactured in America that are exempt from federal health and safety oversight."
When you look at gun deaths nationwide, but especially here in Utah, it's largely an issue of suicide prevention. Statistics from the Utah Department of Health (UDOH) show that over a four-year period, 85 percent of Utah's gun deaths were suicides and 11 percent homicide.
Gun-related deaths first surpassed traffic deaths in Utah in 2006, and the suicide rate has spiked since then.
"Really, you can make a difference with suicide if you approach it from a public health perspective," said Jenny Johnson, injury prevention coordinator for the UDOH.
So the state will treat the population, rather than the individual, by looking at data, enacting policies and safeguards, and opening up the conversation.
"If someone is exhibiting some signs, don't be afraid to intervene. Don't be afraid to ask the question: ‘Are you thinking about suicide?' " said Doug Thomas, assistant director of the Utah Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health.
Still, gun accessibility remains a risk factor in Utah.
"It makes you pause and think about what you need to do to keep your firearms away from people that may be having suicidal thoughts or feelings," Thomas said.
"Firearm access is part of that, but mental health — talking about it, breaking down those stigmas and getting people help — is a huge part for our state," Johnson said. "And we're slowly starting to see the tides shift."
The state experts are confident Utah will reduce its suicide rate. Other states have been successful, and Utah now has new programs in schools and a statewide suicide prevention coordinator.