Today I am in shock. On the front page of the news where two stories that were such polar opposites I had to share my concerns. One article had pictures of a girl and a man smiling and posing with their gift of a gun for Christmas while another reported of a man shot and killed for a pair of sneakers.
The tragic irony struck me hard.
It made me think about the role access to weapons has had in enabling suicide both in the USA as well as Australia.
Every year many people die from suicide. Thankfully the numbers who used guns is significantly lower in Australia where gun control is moderate compared to the USA were gun ownership is written into the constitutional amendments.
From the paper “Suicide Methods Used In Australia” Australian suicides by firearms is 10% for people aged 15-45 rising to 25% in males older then 65. This is significantly lower then the 53% in the USA over all ages. Australian researches note:
… firearm suicide rates[In Australia] are very low, they are substantial in the United States. This probably reflects high handgun ownership in the United States (and low ownership in Australia).
The New England Journal Of Medicine article “Guns and Suicide In The United States” notes:
In 2005, an average of 46 Americans per day committed suicide with a firearm, accounting for 53% of all completed suicides. Gun suicide accounted for 40% more deaths than gun homicide.
Suicidal thoughts are generally short lived. Many people who had not completed suicide report that it was less then 5 minutes between the initial thought to take their life and action.
From my years in psychiatry I know that if we can keep people safe for that brief period of time we can prevent a suicide attempt. The first key is to keep people away from obvious lethal means like guns.
Usually at this point supporters of gun ownership report “well if someone is serious about taking their life they will find another lethal means”. While true, nothing is as fast and effective as a gun. Even with medication overdose there is time to reverse these actions.
In Australia medications that are likely to lead to death in overdose are packaged in individual bubbles. Many believe this is to “keep each tablet fresh” however the primary role is prevention, to slow people down if they are considering overdose.
When it comes to suicide, doctors and mental health professionals have a dual role. First is to identify people with increased risk of suicide and treat them. The second is to advocate for limits to lethal means.
Does a sporting shooter really need a semiautomatic gun to kill a paper target? Does having that hand gun under the bed really increase safety in a home invasion or could it also be used by the invader against the occupant?
This holiday season I highly recommend taking time to stop and think about gun ownership and the responsibility it entails.
Does a gun guarantee the safety that a good lock may be able to provide?
If you own a gun is it stored safely? Research shows homes where guns are stored unlocked and loaded carry a four time risk of youth suicide compared to those stored locked and unloaded.
For me it’s time to think. Is a gun for Christmas an appropriate gift?
Most importantly if you have someone tell you they are suicidal and have access to a gun it is an emergency. Call police immediately. This one simple action can safe a life.
What are your thoughts on gun ownership?