05 February 1999
Tighter gun law to cut suicides?

TIGHTER controls on shotgun ownership on farms could cut the number of suicides among farmers, a conference organised by the mental health charity Mind was told this week.

Alain Gregoire, a consultant psychiatrist based in Salisbury, said the number of suicides amongst farmers was huge, with one farmer dying every week.

Farmers were the fourth highest risk group and 40% of those who killed themselves did so with their own shotguns.

Gun ownership laws were tightened some years ago and “a considerable drop” in suicides associated with firearms followed. Given the high suicide rates among farmers, and the high proportion killing themselves with shotguns, there was an argument in favour of restricting their access to shotguns, said Dr Gregoire.

Opponents of further curbs argued that gun ownership was part of farmers culture and was essential. ” But if shooting yourself is part of your heritage maybe you should think about ways of reducing the risk,” Dr Gregoire said.

Rev Nick Read, director of the Rural Stress Information Network, said discussions had taken place in the past between the Home Office and the NFU over gun ownership.

“There is a lot of evidence to show that if you reduce access to the means the suicide rate drops because most suicides are spur of the moment events,” he said.

A history of depression, for example, could count against someone applying for a shotgun license, said Rev Read. But another approach was to increase awareness among farming families of the significance of shotguns and suicides.

There were individual cases where families were aware that the farmer was depressed, but they didnt remove his shotgun. Taking away a gun, perhaps giving it to a friend for safekeeping, was a sensible precaution, he said.