Deaths from firearms top car-crash fatalities in Washington

Suicides greatly exceed homicides, report says

By Erin Middlewood, Columbian special projects reporter

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Firearm deaths have exceeded car-crash fatalities in Washington for the first time since 1934, according to a report by the state Office of Financial Management released last week.

Despite headlines about murders and mass shootings, however, victims most often die by their own hands.

Between 2008 and 2010, 572 Washington residents died in car crashes, while 582 died by firearm. About 80 percent of firearm deaths are suicides. Males 65 and older are at the highest risk.

Among Clark County firearm deaths during the same time period, one was an accidental shooting, 15 were homicides and 82 were suicides.

The southwestern and northeastern parts of the state have higher than expected numbers of firearm suicides, according to the report authored by Joe Campo of OFM's Healthcare Research Group. Areas around Pacific County and Stevenson had especially high rates, Campo said.

High suicide rates corresponded with high unemployment, Campo said.

"I don't want to overplay that Clark County is at risk, but the southwest (region of the state) has higher than expected rates in a number of risk factors," Campo said. He pointed to high smoking rates and hospitalizations due to complications from smoking, as well as poverty.

Washington's firearm suicide rate was four times the rate in British Columbia, and higher than the rate for the United States as a whole. Firearm homicide rates were twice those in B.C., but only half of those for the U.S. as a whole, according to the report.

"Given the relative magnitude of firearm suicides compared to firearm homicides," Campo's report states, "it is … difficult to understand the disproportionate focus that seems to have been put on firearm homicides alone."

Erin Middlewood: 360-735-4516; http://twitter.com/emiddlewood;http://facebook.com/reportermiddlewood;erin.middlewood@columbian.com.