Guns and suicide: One mother’s heartbreaking tale
The goal of Reach Out. Check In. Save a Life. has always been to promote positive human interaction and prevent suicides through compassion and education. As people struggle with complex questions related to gun ownership, we want to ensure that people understand that gun ownership as a risk factor for suicide is real and should always be taken seriously. While we are not taking a stance related to gun control, we do feel strongly that to help prevent future suicides, it is important to look at the risks factors of gun ownership that have been shown to contribute to self-inflicted deaths. Each gun owner or potential gun owner must weigh the risks and benefits as they apply to his or her situation.
The author of the following article found that having a gun in the home at least doubles the suicide risk for members of that household. This risk can increase ten-fold if firearms are not safely stored, with guns and ammunition locked separately. She relates her own personal experience along with some very powerful statistics. The personal views expressed by the author related to gun ownership are not necessarily ours, however we share a common desire to provide education and information to help reduce the risks of suicide.
I am a mother of three, and my views on guns have evolved significantly over the course of my lifetime. My husband hunts and believes strongly in his right to bear arms. But when my 25-year-old son, Peter, shot himself in a moment of despair in April 2012, I came full circle to a harsh reality: There are almost twice as many suicides as murders by firearm across America, roughly 19,000 of the 30,000 gun deaths each year. Yet we disproportionately fear and almost exclusively talk of criminals in the national gun debate.
My introduction to guns came on a hot summer day in 1963. My father, 53, sent us all out of the house to have an afternoon of fun at a swimming pool. He called police, wrote “I’m sorry” on a scrap of paper, and shot himself in our basement.
My dad had recently lost his job. Not knowing how he would support his family, he had calculated how much his life insurance policies would pay upon his death. It was enough for my mother to raise the five of us, between the ages of 5 and 15 at the time.
I vividly recall the carefree joy of that day in the sun, which was shattered by numbness, confusion, shock, grief and shame. The world felt much less safe from that day on.
Fifteen years later, I became a naval officer to support myself and so I would never be a financial burden on anyone. I qualified as a marksman on an M-16 rifle, felt the kick of firing a .45-caliber handgun and visited the pistol range many times to shoot a friend’s .38-caliber revolver. I was not afraid of guns.
When my sons were still small, I got rid of my handgun because I was more afraid for them than for myself. I recalled my co-worker’s experience: Her son’s friend was accidentally shot in her garage when another youngster brought a gun over, unbeknownst to any adults.
All three of my smart, athletic sons grew up to graduate from college and find good-paying jobs.
In the summer of 2011, my middle son bought a house just outside of Baltimore with his then-girlfriend of five years. As he often did, Peter followed his older brother’s lead, buying a handgun for protection and target shooting. He developed a fascination with weapons and bought a rifle and a sword, too, all “tools” designed to kill.
When Peter proudly showed me his new handgun, I spoke to him about my father’s suicide by gun almost 50 years earlier — the pain and sorrow it caused and the fear for him it now raised in me. I advised him that numerous, reliable studies showed that his gun was more likely to be used against a member of his own household than on anyone else. He expressed surprise at this information. Having said my piece, I dismissed my fears, satisfied that “forewarned is forearmed.”
Ten months later, I knew Peter was unhappy with his job, but none of us close to him ever imagined he was so despondent. He called in sick to work one Friday, wrote me and his fiancee notes of love and apology, walked to the woods, called police and shot himself in the head.