When states let gun owners carry a firearm openly without a permit, death rates soar.

Significantly more people died by firearms and suicides in states that have relaxed open carry laws, a nine-year study of death data from all 50 states shows. 

“Our analysis suggests that because of the change in the law, which provides easier access to firearms, we saw an increased firearm suicide rate and total suicide rate,” said principal study author Dr. Jose Diaz, a professor of surgery at the University of South Florida in Tampa.

His team evaluated annual rates of firearm-related deaths, total suicides and total homicides from 2013 to 2021. Death data came from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

During the study period, 19 states barred open carry or required a permit, and five states switched to open carry laws without a permit. Twenty-six states already allowed open carry without a permit before 2013.

Over the study period, firearm deaths jumped 45% nationwide, from 33,636 in 2013 to 48,830 in 2021.

Researchers found a significant link between more liberal gun laws and rates of firearm-related deaths.

Total suicide rates rose by about 57%, while suicides by firearm rose 18% in states that switched to permitless open carry, the data showed.

There was no link between permitless open carry laws and homicides related to firearms.

Diaz said the retrospective study does not prove cause and effect and that social isolation and poorer mental health observed during and after the pandemic may have influenced the findings. 

But, he added, past studies support the results, linking ease of firearm access to increased risk of suicide.

“Changes in firearm laws have potential repercussions that we do not anticipate,” Diaz said in an American College of Surgeons’ (ACS) news release.

The ACS Committee on Trauma is supporting legislation that increases mandatory background checks for firearm ownership along with increased federal funding for research to prevent firearm injuries.

The findings were published March 11 in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons.

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SOURCE: American College of Surgeons, news release, March 8, 2024