Gun deaths are shaped by race in America. Whites are far more likely to shoot themselves, and African-Americans are far more likely to be shot by someone else.
The statistical difference is dramatic, according to a Washington Post analysis of data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A white person is five times as likely to commit suicide with a gun as to be shot with a gun; for each African American who uses a gun to commit suicide, five are killed by other people with guns.
Where a person lives matters, too. Gun deaths in urban areas are much more likely to be homicides, while suicide is far and away the dominant form of gun death in rural areas. States with the most guns per capita, such as Montana and Wyoming, have the highest suicide rates; states with low gun-ownership rates, such as Massachusetts and New York, have far fewer suicides per capita.
African-Americans tend to be stronger backers of tough gun controls than whites. A Washington Post-ABC News poll this month found that about three-quarters of blacks support stronger controls, compared with about half of whites. The poll also found that two-thirds of city dwellers support stronger gun controls, while only about a third of rural residents back them.
Suicide is "absent from the discussion of gun policy," said Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research in Baltimore. "The availability of firearms does, indeed, increase the risk of suicide, but most people don't see it that way."
Opponents of gun control counter that some countries with high gun-ownership rates, such as Israel, have few suicides and that countries such as Russia, where guns are scarce, have high rates of suicide.
The National Rifle Association casts the link between guns and suicide as something of a virtue. "Gun owners are notably self-reliant and exhibit a willingness to take definitive action when they believe it to be in their own self-interest," the NRA wrote in a fact sheet called "Suicide and Firearms." "Such action may include ending their own life when the time is deemed appropriate."
But experts say the urge to commit suicide is neither unstoppable nor permanent. "I emphasize that suicide is preventable - treatment works," said Iliana Gilman, spokeswoman for a crisis hotline in Austin.
Attempts at suicide are more than 20 times as likely to be fatal when a gun is used.