Lewis Diuguid

Murder-suicides claim distressingly high number of Americans

Protesters for better gun control marched in January from the U.S. Capitol to the Washington Monument. In June 2014, the journal Preventive Medicine published a paper from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researchers saying deaths from gunfire have been holding steady at about 32,000 a year. Firearm suicides account for 60 percent of gun deaths, and those are rising. A new Violence Policy Center report notes that murder-suicides — 93 percent involved a gun — claimed more than 1,200 lives in 2014.
Protesters for better gun control marched in January from the U.S. Capitol to the Washington Monument. In June 2014, the journal Preventive Medicine published a paper from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researchers saying deaths from gunfire have been holding steady at about 32,000 a year. Firearm suicides account for 60 percent of gun deaths, and those are rising. A new Violence Policy Center report notes that murder-suicides — 93 percent involved a gun — claimed more than 1,200 lives in 2014. The Associated Press

Despite the National Rifle Association hype, guns do kill people. In fact the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that in 2014, guns were responsible for 33,636 deaths in the United States, or 10.7 deaths per 100,000 people.

That’s a lot. But a new and equally distressing number comes from the Violence Policy Center.

It reports that more than 1,200 people died in murder-suicides in 2014 in the U.S., and 93 percent of the assailants used a gun. The October report is titled “American Roulette: Murder-Suicide in the United States.”

If the title was meant to get people’s attention it succeeded.

“What makes these acts particularly disturbing is that they involve more than one person and often involve a family,” said the study authored by Marty Langley, Violence Policy Center senior policy analyst. “Yet outside of high-profile mass shootings, the phenomenon of murder suicide usually garners little public attention as a significant contributor to gun-related death and injury.

“This is despite the fact that, as one medical professional has observed, ‘because many murder-suicides result in the death or injury of family members and sometimes mass murder, they cause countless additional morbidity, family trauma and disruption of communities.’”

The center is a nonprofit educational organization that does research and tries to educate the public and policymakers on violence in America. This is the fifth edition of the report, analyzing news reports of murder-suicides from Jan. 1, 2014, to June 30, 2014. The study is thought to be the largest and most comprehensive analysis of murder-suicides in the U.S.

Troubling, though not surprising, facts from the report are that most of the murder-suicide victims were females while close to 90 percent of the killers were men.

The study found that there were 282 murder-suicides in that six-month period, or nearly 11 per week. They resulted in 617 deaths; 285 were suicides and 332 were homicides. Doubling that number of slayings resulted in the annual estimate of 1,234 murder-suicide deaths in 2014, the study notes.

“Medical studies estimate that between 1,000 and 1,500 deaths per year in the United States are the result of murder-suicide,” the report says.

The study reports that:

▪ Of the 285 suicides, 254 were male, 30 were female and one was of unidentified gender.

▪ Of the 332 homicides, 252 victims were female, 79 victims were male, and the gender of one victim was not identified.

▪ Seventy-two percent of all murder-suicides involved an intimate partner. Of these, 93 percent were females killed by their intimate partners. Of these, 94 percent involved a gun.

▪ Forty-five of the homicide victims were children and teens less than 18 years of age.

▪ Sixty-three children and teens less than 18 years of age were survivors who witnessed some aspect of the murder-suicide.

▪ Forty-six percent of murder-suicides involving a male murderer and three or more victims were perpetrated by family annihilators.

Eight states had 10 or more murder-suicides in the period of the study. These states were: Texas (34); California (27); Florida (20); Georgia (16); Pennsylvania (12); North Carolina (10); Ohio (10); and Tennessee (10).

“In this study, 81 percent of murder-suicides occurred in the home,” the report notes. “Though not specified in most studies, available data confirm that the home of the offender and/or victim is the most likely place for murder-suicide. Studies show that within the home, more murder-suicides are committed in the bedroom than any other room.”

Age is a factor in many murder suicides.

“In this study, 33 percent of murder-suicides involved a murderer 55 years of age or older,” the report notes. “Older people rarely commit homicide. If most murder-suicides involve family turmoil, a smaller, discrete category involves older people, where the declining health of either the victim, the offender or both is an issue.

“In 2013, only 8 percent of known homicide offenders were 55 years of age or older. Suicide, however, is disproportionately represented in this age group, with 35 percent of suicide victims being 55 years of age or older.”

The study adds that “the effects of murder-suicide go far beyond the shooter: family, friends, co-workers and absolute strangers are among those who are killed as a result of these acts of desperation. Moreover, murder-suicide often leaves children parentless.”

The study adds: “More people died from murders associated with the suicide — 332 — than from the suicides themselves. These numbers call into grave question the common belief that suicide, especially firearms suicide, is a solitary act that affects only the shooter.”

Because domestic violence often is involved, the report recommends more research, a comprehensive data base of potential offenders, effective prevention strategies, state-level task forces and stronger legislation to combat domestic violence. Stronger gun laws would help, too.

“The presence of a gun allows the offender to quickly and easily kill a greater number of victims,” the report says. “If there had not been easy access to a firearm, these deaths may simply have been injuries or may not have occurred at all.

“Efforts should be made to restrict access to firearms where there is an increased risk of murder-suicide, for example where an individual has a history of domestic violence and/or has threatened suicide.”

Of course, authorities then would have to ensure that the laws are strictly enforced.

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