Before President Obama gave his 2013 State of the Union address, faith leaders and others were already rallying to get a national conversation going about gun violence. It seems that every horrific mass shooting or senseless gun death becomes an opportunity to revisit the gun issue. Anytime any life is lost to violence only reminds us that we have yet to deal with the issues surrounding violence in our culture.
Personally, I think the conversation about gun violence is long overdue. What surprises me is we’re not even talking about the gun violence that kills most Americans. While most think murder is the leading cause of gun death, the reality is that the majority of gun deaths are self-inflicted. What we really need to include in the conversation about gun violence is suicide prevention.
Here are a few startling facts from the National Center for Health Statistics:
- Every 15 minutes someone dies by suicide in the Unites States.
- For every person who dies, many more think about, plan, or attempt suicide.
- More people kill themselves with guns than with every other method combined.
Suicide is complex and determined by a combination of factors. One very close friend of mine made three attempts in a short period. She was well-educated, happily married with two young daughters, and a professor at a prestigious university. An elderly parishioner received news he had cancer and shot himself without ever telling his family of his diagnosis. Sometimes we can piece together mitigating circumstances and risk factors and other times we’re taken completely by surprise.
What Cathy Barber, a researcher at the Harvard School of Public Health discovered is that the notion of how a person commits suicide is as important as why and that making it harder for suicidal people to have access to guns is a relatively simple way to save their lives. The assumption is that if someone is suicidal, they will remain suicidal. The overwhelming evidence, including interviews with suicide survivors, is that most suicidal acts come during a surprisingly brief period when someone is experiencing an acute crisis.
I was having a conversation about gun violence with someone and was told that “suicides don’t count.” I understand that most people would rather think that the possibility of themselves or someone they love dying by suicide is more remote than if they were to be shot by an armed robber or mass shooter. I might have also thought that before my brother died from a self-inflicted gunshot.
Either way, innocent people are dying. It seems that these are people who could be helped.