Gun control group Everytown sues ATF to release suicide data

Gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety has asked a New York federal court to force the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to release information about firearm suicides. Everytown said ATF refused its request via a 2016 Freedom of Information Act Request for the data by claiming federal law shields such information from public view, according to the complaint filed March 15.

The lawsuit called attention to the Tiahrt amendment, a rider attached to the federal budget that prohibits ATF from releasing trace data on firearm purchases except on crime guns and statistics on the U.S. firearms industry. However, Everytown argued the measure is a NRA-supported effort to purposefully limit public information on gun crime and violence. “The data we’re seeking is a potentially important missing piece for public health experts studying gun suicides, and we’ll do what it takes to make this important data public,” said Eric Tirschwell, Everytown’s litigation director, in a statement.

The lawsuit also raised awareness of gun suicides, which account for two-thirds of all gun deaths. Everytown said an average of 21,000 Americans committed suicide using a firearm between 2012 and 2016. Citing published research, the group said about 85-90 percent of people attempting suicide with a firearm are successful whereas most survive when using some other means. “Access to a firearm during a period of crisis often means the difference between life and death,” the lawsuit said and added that most people who survive an attempt never try it again.

Gun control groups like Giffords, named after former Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who survived a 2011 assassination attempt, argued effective gun policy can prevent suicides. The group said research shows states with weak gun laws have a higher rate of suicide than those with strict gun laws.

While gun rights groups have traditionally disagreed that new legislation would reduce gun crimes and violence, they have recently opened up to certain measures like “risk protection orders” to allow authorities to take guns away from dangerous individuals. “This could help prevent violent behavior before it turns into a tragedy,” said Chris Cox, the NRA’s head lobbyist, in a recorded statement earlier this month. He explained such measures would “allow a court to intervene and temporarily remove firearms when a person threatens violence to themselves or others.” Yet, the group clarified it would only support such a measure if it met certain conditions to respect the Second Amendment and due process.

Other gun rights groups also acknowledged the disturbingly high rate of gun suicides annually. The gun industry’s trade association, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, teamed with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention last year to launch a program to instruct gun dealers and owners about identifying warning signs for at risk people. Also, the Second Amendment Foundation has worked with public health researchers in its home state of Washington to raise awareness of the issue and advance risk protection orders.

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