For the second year in a row, suicides represent nearly 70% of all gun deaths in Minnesota. Those working to stop gun violence hope the new data opens more eyes to a concerning trend, and dispels some myths as well.
The 2021 gun death numbers, released this month by the group Protect Minnesota, coincide with Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. The group’s Executive Director Rashmi Seneviratne said many suicides by firearm are concentrated in rural parts of the state and often involve older men.
As farming communities deal with economic stress, she said guns handed down from previous generations might still be in the family home. “Past generations have grown up being used to guns for hunting, for food and that sort of thing,” said Seneviratne, “and that’s not necessarily what we’re using it as much for.”
And she said there is concern not enough conversations are happening within these families about safe storage.
Protect Minnesota says the numbers also show gun deaths aren’t just an issue in Minneapolis and St. Paul. But Seneviratne said it’s important to not overlook gun violence in urban settings and the effect it has at the community level.
Whether it’s suicides or gun violence in communities, Seneviratne said policymakers can’t lose sight of the root causes.
“We say ‘Minneapolis’ and we say ‘Greater Minnesota,’ but the root causes are the same,” said Seneviratne, “It’s lack of resources. It’s lack of educational activities after school, and opportunities. It’s lack of viable employment opportunities.”
As of late, Minnesota has had the lowest unemployment rate in the country. But labor analysts say in rural areas, having the necessary skills for available jobs has been a roadblock for some.
Meanwhile, Seneviratne said promoting safe gun storage or trigger locks can add seconds to a volatile situation that might prompt an individual to reconsider their actions.
Mike Moen writes for the Minnesota News Connection.