How Many Gun Suicides Could Be Prevented?

by Diane Dimond on April 25, 2016

Now More Gun Suicides Than Gun Homicides

Now More Gun Suicides Than Gun Homicides

Thank goodness there have been no headline grabbing mass shootings in America recently.

I was thinking about that this week after reading about the 17th anniversary of the Columbine massacre. On April 20, 1999, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris shot dead 12 of their fellow students, one teacher and injured many others in a senseless bloodbath at their Colorado high school.

Let’s hope this lull in school/office/theater shootings continues. Yet, sadly, it is surely temporary given that in the United States there are as many 310 million guns in civilian hands.

This respite is a good time to think about what we can do to mitigate gun violence and death. And to understand it more completely. That brought me to think about a friend who bravely wrote an OpEd a few years ago entitled, Please Take Away My Right to a Gun:

With 300 Million US Guns Suicide Can Be Easy

300 Million US Guns Can Make Suicide More Convenient

I am one of the millions of people in this country who live with depression. You’d look at me and never know that sometimes my fight against the urge to die is so tough the only way I get through it is second by second. If I had purchased (a) gun and it had been in my possession, I’m not sure I would have been able to resist and would be here typing these words.”

Wendy Button, an extremely talented former political speechwriter, stunned those of us who know her yet did not realize her constant struggle with depression. She opened eyes to the harsh reality. Of all the gun deaths in this country 60% are suicides. That’s right, there are more gun suicides in the U.S. than gun homicides.

The latest government statistics reveal someone in America commits suicide every 13 minutes, more than 41,000 during 2013. Women think about suicide more than men but males take their own lives nearly four times more often and when they do they most commonly use a firearm. During autopsy suicide victims frequently test positive for anti-depressants, pain killers and alcohol, all likely used as band aids to mask underlying mental problems.

Not The Safest Way To Store Guns At Home

Not The Safest Way To Store Guns At Home

So, all this begs the questions: Do you have a gun in your home? Does anyone in your household suffer from depression or mental illness? Have they ever hinted at hopelessness or suicide? Do frequent visitors know where you keep your gun?

As I’ve written many times, a vast majority of gun owners are responsible citizens but I wonder how many employ extra safeguards for their firearms. Locking guns in a glass walled display cabinet is hardly a real deterrent.

Look, we’ll never be able to prevent all suicides and if someone is feeling suicidal there are other means for them to choose. Pills, poison or hanging are common but not always efficient. Studies indicate that people impulsively commit suicide shortly after deciding death is preferable to life. If they are in a place where there is a gun they’re more likely to use that deadly method than wait to plan another way out. Anything we can do to make suicide more difficult can save lives.

More Mental Health Help, Please

More Mental Health Help, Please

This isn’t a call for more legislative gun control because many of the frequently floated ideas – banning assault weapons and armor piercing bullets or limiting the number of bullets in a clip – mean nothing in the fight to reduce suicides. This is a call for all gun owners to rethink how they store their firearms and who has access to them. As for lawmakers, the best thing they could do is earmark more money for mental health programs. It’s a no-brainer to link mental illness and suicide.

If you’re a gun owner shaking your head and thinking, “I don’t know anyone who might take their own life,” don’t be so sure. Gun suicides are a huge problem in the U.S. and every age category is afflicted.

For kids between the age of 10 and 14 suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death. 17% of high school students admit they seriously considered suicide in the previous 12 months. About 14% of them made a plan to do it and 8% actually attempted to kill themselves. For those aged 15 to 34 suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death. And, the most at risk Americans are middle-aged. They now account for 56% of all suicides and over the last decade this category has increased by a shocking 30%.

As Wendy Button put it after she contemplated buying a gun following a frightening home invasion, “(Then) I remembered who I am. I have a better chance of surviving if I never have the option of being able to pull the trigger.”

Don’t give someone you know the option.

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Note: Just days after this column was submitted the Centers for Disease Control released new suicide statistics. During the year 2014 suicide rates soared to a 30-year high with 42,773 Americans taking their own lives. The largest category was those citizens who are white and middle aged. The most stunning increase – 63% – was among white women between the ages of 45 and 64.

Diane Dimond April 25, 2016 at 11:34 am

Facebook Friend Susan Alloggio writes:

“Guns scare me. I do have a bb gun for rabid animals.”

Diane Dimond April 25, 2016 at 11:34 am

Facebook Friend Caryn Clark writes:

“I always enjoy your posts, Diane!! I truly do. I’m glad you wrote this because I think this is a very important statistic. I hope you don’t mind if I offer this line of thought.

My father committed suicide with a gun. He wasn’t even supposed to have guns – they were taken from him, supposedly, after he spent some time in jail many years ago – but he did. Oh, and he had attempted suicide previously, years prior, with prescription drugs. The obvious point being, if someone wants to kill themselves with a gun, they will find one and do it. Just because a few with suicidal tendencies say that they were saved b/c they didn’t have access to a gun, doesn’t mean that will decrease the number of suicides by gun. It likely won’t. They’ll find one.”

Diane Dimond April 25, 2016 at 11:35 am

Facebook Friend Bonnie Dudley writes:

“I think they should make suicide illegal so it will stop, murder too. Just like when they make the guns illegal.”

Diane Dimond April 25, 2016 at 11:55 am

Noozhawk Reader AN50 writes:

“Suicide is terrible. But what a victim uses to carry it out is less important than why they do. You cannot rubber mat the world to make it safe from those who want to hurt themselves or others. To think you can is a lie, one that allows us as a culture to ignore the underlying problems while we focus on a thing. What Wendy shows us is you can be depressed enough to want to die and still be responsible enough not to carry it out. She was always free to buy a gun or cut her wrists, jump off a bridge, swallow a bottle of pills, jump in front of a train, whatever. We don’t ban knives, trains, bridges or pills because someone who has suicidal tendencies wants to use them to kill themselves. The same is true of guns. Until we recognize that a gun ban is an excuse for not doing better care as a society, a lazy way out, then suicide will continue, with or without guns, bridges, trains, knives, pills or whatever.”

Diane Dimond April 25, 2016 at 9:14 pm

Facebook Friend Tricia Minahan Marchlik writes:

“The punishments for crimes, no matter what they are, are never severe enough. If I had a gun, and thought that if my 5 yr old shot his brother, would yield me 20+ yrs in prison, I’d be damn careful to keep the guns in a secure location. How many times do we see a gun in the hands of a curious kid? The same applies to those who allow a gun to be used by anyone who is not licensed…(like in the case of taking the gun for suicide) // The woman in Sandy Hook, who urged her mentally challenged son to go shooting with her, was out of her head…and how did that work for her??? she was the first one killed.”

Diane Dimond April 25, 2016 at 9:15 pm

Facebook Friend Susan Mantler Leber writes:

“We have a gun in the house. Its not easy to get at, you have to be tall as me to reach it, its not loaded but I can get it, load it in about 90 seconds. (Ammo is not in the same space as the gun).”

Diane Dimond April 25, 2016 at 9:15 pm

Facebook Friend Dawn Dix writes:

“Suicide IS illegal… we have guns, and we’re safe.”

Diane Dimond April 25, 2016 at 9:19 pm

Actually, Dawn –
Read this from Wikipedia:

” In the United States – Historically, various states listed the act of suicide as a felony, but these policies were sparsely enforced. In the late 1960s, eighteen U.S. states had no laws against suicide.[39] By the late 1980s, thirty of the fifty states had no laws against suicide or suicide attempts but every state had laws declaring it to be a felony to aid, advise or encourage another person to commit suicide.[40] By the early 1990s only two states still listed suicide as a crime, and these have since removed that classification…”

Diane Dimond April 25, 2016 at 9:20 pm

Twitter Pal DaisyCatgirl writes:

“@DiDimond I don’t know, the last few days Denver has had so many shootings, it’s too many to count-not one of them a suicide. Shame.”

Diane Dimond April 26, 2016 at 10:58 pm

Facebook friend Lyn Novosel writes:

“I do not own a gun and never will. I do not live in fear of my life. I don’t need a gun. Besides, I am British….I think that says it all.”

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