DIMOND: How Many Gun Suicides Could Be Prevented?

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BY DIANE DIMOND

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 and 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 as 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 op-ed a few years ago entitled “Please Take Away My Right to a Gun”:

“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 percent 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 suicides occurred 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 antidepressants, painkillers and alcohol, all likely used as Band-Aids to mask underlying mental problems.

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.

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

As Wendy Button put it, after she contemplated buying a gun following a frightening home invasion, “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.

Rockland resident Diane Dimond is a syndicated columnist, author, regular guest on TV news programs, and correspondent for Newsweek/Daily Beast. Visit her at www.DianeDimond.net or reach her via email Diane@DianeDimond.net

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