Developing a Comprehensive Approach to Firearm Suicide

The Challenge

Three out of four Americans incorrectly believe that mass shootings, community violence, and unintentional shootings are the largest source of gun deaths. Contrary to this widely held belief, 60% of gun fatalities in Pennsylvania are suicides. This misconception is driven by a simple fact: suicide by gun is a silent killer. This silence is the result of two factors. First, for a number of reasons, including the valid concern about copycat responses, the cause of these deaths is rarely mentioned in obituaries or news stories. In fact, suicide loss is rarely discussed in general. Second, in rural areas with high rates of gun ownership, many residents worry they will be perceived as demonizing a tool that is strongly associated with a community’s identity and values if they support gun access restrictions. Without addressing these concerns, communities cannot meaningfully tackle firearm suicides.

The Project

Through this Stoneleigh Fellowship, Jay Breneman is developing a comprehensive approach to preventing firearm suicide in Pennsylvania, including highlighting the risks and realities across the Commonwealth, shifting understanding of the crisis, and helping legislators recognize all of the ways in which gun violence impacts their constituents.

This Stoneleigh Fellowship will enable Jay to:

  • Build a comprehensive approach to firearm suicide policy, including tracking risk factors and opportunities for interventions, identifying ways in which interventions might vary based on demographic differences, and illuminating how firearm access contributes to suicide broadly. To inform this strategy, Jay will convene a stakeholder group that includes family members and friends who have lost a loved one to suicide, mental health leaders, suicidologists, prevention organizations, and other allies.
  • Identify messaging and shift the narrative to help Pennsylvanians better understand the nature of firearm suicide in their communities. This will include building a network of survivors, gun owners, and local leaders in rural areas; developing a statewide policy coalition focused on addressing firearm suicide; and engaging in media education.
  • Disseminate new knowledge, learnings, and recommendations throughout CeaseFirePA’s network.

Jay Breneman, DSW, LSW

Stoneleigh Fellow

2024 – 2027

Director of Firearm Suicide Prevention

CeaseFirePA Education Fund