Facing the Gun Culture’s Biggest Problem: Suicides – Content Contest

(This post is an entry in our spring content contest. If you’d like a chance to win a Beretta APX pistol, click here for details.)

By Kevin Perkins

It was a big day for the small gun shop I worked at. A little over six months in the newer, more upscale location had been a boon to business. That morning we came in several hours before opening to film our first TV commercial.

Filming was going well even though we had to politely shoo away customers who thought we were open for business a little early. My coworker Mark had just finished a take when the hustle and bustle was broken by a gentle sob. An older woman had entered the store unnoticed in the middle of the take.

She was wearing a light jacket and carrying a bundle of tissues in her hand. She walked up to him slowly and in between sobs she asked him, in a thick Russian accent, if we had sold a gun to her son. He had shot himself last night and she wanted to find out where he bought it and when.

Mark had been caught off guard by the situation. We had worked together for nearly four years at this point and neither of us had seen anything like it. He looked up the man’s name in our retail system and we had not sold him the gun. She said ‘thank you’ and left, headed for the next shop.

Nearly a year later she came back with a neighbor and a small cardboard box that said ‘evidence’ on every side. Inside was a 9mm compact pistol (I’m going to refrain from specifying make or model) with a stainless slide. Speckles of dried blood where caked on the sides of it. She wanted to sell the pistol her son killed himself with.

This time I was the one caught off guard. I politely told them we couldn’t take it. The neighbor asked why not. At the time I couldn’t think of any convenient excuse. My mind had gone blank “I’m sorry we just can’t.” “It’s because my son killed himself with it,” the woman said and she begun to cry. I recommended another shop and they left.

Suicide is the number one cause of firearm-related deaths making up about 2/3rds of gun-related deaths. Suicide is the 800 pound gorilla in the room that no one wants to talk about. According to the CDC, in 2014 a total of 33,636 people died as a result of firearms, 21,175 were suicide. Surprisingly, when gun control arguments arise, suicide is a subject rarely brought up even by gun control advocates. This is because it falls into the unspoken territory of mental illness.

The hard truth for us gun owners is that while more guns lead to less crime, they also lead to higher rates of successful suicide. This is due to several reasons. The first is the finality and speed of a gun suicide. With a quick squeeze of a trigger the suicidal individual is almost guaranteed the outcome they intend. They have no time to change their mind or be discovered before death as in an asphyxiation, pill or bleeding out suicide.

The damage is immediate and almost always irreversible. This is appealing to someone who wants to bring their ‘suffering’ to end, but fears suffering physically. Unlike a falling death, a firearm suicide can be done in the comfort of your own home with a decreased chance of people intervening or risk of landing on someone and injuring them.

No one really has a good solution to this problem even though it’s biggest problem in regards to firearm deaths. Mental health issues are taboos in the public’s mind and people committing suicide are often seen as ‘cowards’ or ‘taking the easy way out.’ The best solution would be encouraging those with mental health issues to come forward and seek help before harming themselves. Often many people hide their pain or are too far gone to accept help and are lost.

We as gun owners should step forward and pick up the slack to help prevent firearm suicide. It’s not our responsibility, and we have no obligation to, but I think it is our duty. We buy guns to protect ourselves, our loved ones and, in extreme circumstances, strangers in need. It’s in our blood that we want to protect others.

How can we make a difference? There are several steps we can take. First is to protect yourself. The National Suicide Prevention hotline is open 24 hours a day at 800-273-8255. If you or a loved one have feelings or thoughts of suicide, please call them. The folks there are a wealth of hope in your time of need and can direct you to a mental health professional near you.

Next, protect your family. Teens and kids are very good at hiding their feelings, even from their parents. Make sure that your firearms are properly secured so that your children can’t access them without adult supervision. Make sure keys or lock combinations aren’t easily accessible. Safes and lockers can be had for a relatively inexpensive price. Small pistol lock boxes allow quick access to guns to minimize the trade off between security from juvenile access and access in an emergency.

Third, I would like to see involvement from the gun store owners. At the bear minimum having posters or pamphlets at your gun shop to help spread awareness.

An interesting concept I have discussed with my former coworkers is that of gun shops providing mental health storage of firearms for those going through a mental health crises. One thing that many gun owners share is a general mistrust of the government when it comes to our guns.

If gun shops were given legal protection to hold firearms voluntarily surrendered by someone who wants help, but is also afraid they may self-harm, until the owner has resolved their issues or to have them easily transfer the firearms to a family member/friend. This would mean that someone can get help without worry of governmental confiscation at just the cost of a background check.

As an ardent gun owner I have argued and fought against gun control for years. None of these are foolproof solutions. However if we as a community can come together and make a dent in firearm suicides by raising awareness, storing properly, and seeking help, it will show that unlike gun control advocates, we can make a difference. Thank you.


  1. avatar Ed Rogers says:

    Fantastic effort, probably the most worth-while so far with this contest. There aren’t any EASY answers but at least this highlights some common sense solutions.

  2. avatar former water walker says:

    Sure I guess but NOTHING is foolproof. I never seriously wanted to off myself but know someone who did. And he was mentally ill. Like people who OD on Heroin some folks are just bad at life(I’ve been around drug addicts since 1972 so the newest drug epidemic is just more of the same to me). Are gunshops responsible for suicide? Nope…you can only do your best.

  3. avatar Julian says:

    Excellent post. Those committing suicide or contemplating it have lost all hope, typically due to chronic severe depression or other mental illness. That’s a sad and scary place to be.

    One of the best LGS in my area holds an annual suicide prevention awareness event, and always has suicide prevention info posted in the store.

  4. avatar rt66paul says:

    The problem there is that when it comes time to give the gun back, you could be in the middle of a suicide done later. Having a safe gun storage for owners, for a small fee, the reasons are not for you to judge, might then protect you. The minute he/she states he/she might be suicidal, you are in the middle.

    Don’t ask, don’t tell – and stae your policy on a sign.

  5. I cannot even imagine how cold-hearted one must have been to turn away that grief stricken mother without taking the suicide gun from her.

    1. avatar Tim says:

      What “cold hearted”? Just because they sell firearms it becomes their responsibility to buy back the gun he shot himself with? If he had died driving drunk, should the car dealer buy back the car he died in?

      Take your preening, fake shame & shove it.

      1. avatar Roymond says:

        Driving drunk and crashing is a completely different thing than shooting yourself. It would be a fair comparison if the driver deliberately swerved across some tracks right in front of high-speed train, or off a cliff.

        “Cold hearted”? From one perspective, sure, But the trouble I see is that it should have been plain the woman was trying to rid herself of the tool her son had used to kill himself, and some empathy should have kicked in. Obviously she wouldn’t want to take it to the store where he’d bought it! So I don’t see why she was turned away — if there were some legal reason for not taking it, then recommending a different shop was foolish; if there wasn’t, then the issue was the employee’s own squeamishness, and that seems to be the case since he used the word “excuse”.

        I can see the refusal if he’d been the one to sell it to her son. But since it hadn’t even been that store, I have to say the employee blew a chance to help another human being because doing so made him uncomfortable.

        And in there lies a parallel to one big reason there are so many suicides: people don’t want to be bothered with sharing or lightening someone else’s burdens. Helping out feels awkward, so it’s easier to make excuses and push someone away. If we want to reduce the suicide rate, we have to make sure we’re not like this gun store employee, and be willing to take on some major inconvenience and discomfort and seriously offer assistance.

        1. avatar Kevin P says:

          Thats pretty much it. I was in my early 20’s when I had to deal with that situation and had never dealt with anything like that. I was apologetic at the time but the situation was very overwhelming at the time. That’s why the incident has stayed with me and inspired me to write this article 6+ years later. I feel ashamed that i wasn’t able to help her after all this time.

        2. avatar Aramaki says:

          this ignores the biggest question of them all: why did the cops have to give her the gun? I own a M1 that dates from January 1944. There’s a very good chance that it probably saw some action, and may have put somebody in the ground. The other bit that gives me pause is that some poor American boy might have been killed while holding my rifle. It’s impossible to know, as there are no records on who carried which rifle. That’s war, that happens in war. Suicide is another story, and it’s a very uncomfortable story.

          I, for one, would be extremely uncomfortable owning a firearm that was previously used by somebody to kill themselves with. Freaks me out. I don’t see why the cops had to give her the gun. They could have disposed of it themselves.

        3. avatar BLoving says:

          Kevin, several years ago a co-worker informed me that the local law had been in to ask some questions on a day I was off.
          An elderly woman had purchased a gun from my store the week before and killed herself with it.
          I sold it to her.
          I don’t know how I might have handled it if I had been questioned about it directly, fortunately, they had no further questions or need to speak to me. As it is, that memory had been safely tucked away for years until now.
          Since then, we’ve learned to be observant of the tell-tale signs that a customer is not in the mental state to purchase a firearm. We ask questions, observe body language, inquire about their training, their reasons for wanting a gun – pretty much all of the questions that would give all of us ulcers if a government official asked them. If for any reason we don’t like the answers we get, we can stop the sale. Period.
          I can count on my fingers how many times Ive stopped a sale because of a “bad vibe”, the grief I still carry and am dealing with is the one time my intuition failed me.
          No. I would not have bought the gun from her either. What would you have done with it? Cleaned it up and resold it? Kept it for yourself? You weren’t cold, you were human.

  6. avatar Hillary "NeverPrez" Clinton says:

    Did someone say “suicide contest”?

    I’m ‘in’!

  7. avatar anonymoose says:

    Ropes, bridges, and the right combination of pills can achieve the same results (death). We need to talk about the mental health aspect before restricting access to guns. Heck, my guns kept me going to that dark place several times. I just look at them and I feel a bit happier.

    1. And suicide isn’t the biggest problem for the gun culture.
      That would be the Federal government.

  8. avatar Cliff H says:

    I understand the desire to be concerned and try to be helpful, especially to those touched by the death of their loved ones, but haven’t we more than once on this site shown that without access to firearms people intent on suicide will just find another means?

    I am saddened by the fact that some people can see no direction forward for their life and choose suicide. That said, and this must be said somewhere in this conversation: Darwin. Those who can survive choose to survive, or at the very least die while still trying to survive.

    Sorry if that sounds cold, but Mather Nature, and natural selection, is a bitch.

    1. avatar Paul says:

      Has your daughter ever tried to kill herself? It’s all well and good to talk Darwinism until it hits close to home.

      My weapons are securely locked up in a quick release touch button safe, and I’m the only person who knows the combination.

  9. avatar Jim S. says:

    The number of firearms has nothing to do with the number of suicides.
    If you have read your John Lott (or Howard Nemerov) if there’s a drop in suicide by gun because of restriction, there tends to be a corresponding rise in suicide by other means.
    The lethality is in the intent, not the means.
    As tough as it might be, some people just aren’t meant for this world. No matter how much help they get or don’t get they can’t deal with living.

  10. avatar Ralph says:

    “while more guns lead to less crime, they also lead to higher rates of successful suicide”


    There are countries where the suicide rate is significantly higher than ours without a single gun in sight. Here in the good ol’ USA, 42,773 people died from suicide in 2014. Half used means other than guns.

    Anecdotally, I had two friends who offed themselves. One jumped from a tall building, and the other hung himself. Neither used a gun, and I assure you that their attempts were quite “successful.”

    1. avatar Kevin P says:

      I agree that people will find other ways especially if they are particularly determined. What i mean by that is that a once an attempt is made the rate of suicide ‘success’ is higher because a person is more likely to survive jumping, hanging, or another means when compared to a gsw to the head. Not by much mind you, but by a statistically noticeable amount.


  11. avatar MrBwithaMK18 says:

    Growing up in liberal cities like Chicago and Washington State guns were never a thing, taboo even. So when my four family members decided to kill themselves all at different times through out my life, all four used a rope to get the job done and I doubt they even considered a gun. Some of these family members even failed at their attempts using things that were NOT a gun before finally finding the power of rope. I never really thought to myself, “I am going to blame Ace Hardware” or after the tragedy though “Can I sell this chair my grandmother used to kill herself back to the Pier One?”

    If they had killed themselves with a gun I imagine I would have let the cops keep and probably destroy the firearm and try to push forward with my life rather than haggle for a few hundred bucks.

    1. avatar uncommon_sense says:

      And should we put the onus on everyone who owns rope to store their rope in safes … as well as assign them the task of identifying mental illness and intervene before someone hangs themselves?

  12. avatar Geoff PR says:

    “If gun shops were given legal protection to hold firearms voluntarily surrendered by someone who wants help, but is also afraid they may self-harm, until the owner has resolved their issues or to have them easily transfer the firearms to a family member/friend.”

    There is probably an existing way to handle that, if it were for a spouse. (Spousal community property).

    The concerned spouse could pawn it. Pawn it for a tiny amount, pawn shops usually have a minimum pawn value, I’ve seen $5 as a typical value.

    The pawn shop will be more than happy to write that ticket, if it never gets picked up, they just bought a gun for next to nothing…

  13. avatar Bob Jones says:

    In a nation of 340,000,000 people, it is not unusual that 20,000 people kill themselves with firearms every year. That’s about one in 15,000. Many suicides are people suffering from terminal illnesses who are ready to “go”. The illegality of physician assisted suicide is probably the main reason firearms are used so frequently.

  14. avatar maxi says:

    I’m a firefighter and EMT in Germany right now.
    And whenever somebody kills himself with a gun i am thankfull. Simply because it could have gone worse. MUCH worse.
    The rate of secondary victims (is that the right word in english?) is extremely low.
    What i mean by that is: how many train drivers kill themselves after somebody killed himself with his train? A lot. If not most of them. Suicide by train or car is basically murder because you almost certainly kill your killer/victim. And then all the firefighters who have to clean up the mess. You can only collect so many heads and legs of the railroad before you question the point of living anymore. Same goes for jumping onto concrete.
    Suicide by poison is a horror to the involved forces. Checking possibly poisoned people is a nervewrecking process that involves a lot of people in biohazard/chemical suites. Because we learned the hard way.
    Same goes for CO and CO2 poisoning. A nice death in your car/garage/bathroom indeed. And the cop who is asked to look after you will also end quite peacefully. But he didn’t really ask for it.

    If you kill yorself there is a good way: hang yourself. Calculate the length of rope so that you won’t rip off your head nor suffer long because the neck didn’t break and you suffocated. Manikin in band, as we call it. Won’t make the day nicer, but it’s the best thing you can ask for as a firefighter.
    Shooting yourself isn’t nice to look at. But there is no danger to the arriving forces and nobody can blame hinself for directly killing that person. So i would rate it the second most firefighter/emt/police frendly way to kill yourself.

    Not a nice way to look at the world, but a realistic one that actually thinks about those innocent people who suffer unneccesarily by suicides. So i’m thankfull for every gun suicide because it didn’t involve poison, poisonous gas, guilty feeling train drivers etc.

    1. avatar Jeff K says:

      In the US add death by tractor trailer truck. My TT driving friends were all the time talking about the fear of it happening & it did happen to one.

  15. avatar jr233 says:

    of the 20k+ suicides, i often wonder how many have diseases other than depression
    and many countries and several states now allow assisted suicides.so the world is now allowing and sadly encouraging self-deaths in at least 2 countries under 18 are now allowed to chose death and 1 country will send a crew in a van if the local doctor refuses to euthanize a patient. so guns and gun stores have no reason to feel any further remorse other than we do when a fellow human dies. it also been determined suicide by cop is real and i still call that the coward’s way and too often they have killed and the cops caught them.. but also many one car fatalities for no apparent reason are also suicides. while i feel most suicides are personally wrong
    a person has the right to end it all but not take another with them

    1. avatar Jeff K says:

      Read one time that almost all dead center head on crashes into trees, telephone poles and so forth were suicides.

  16. avatar Bob McMahan says:

    Sucicide seems to be exacerbated by using certain medications, including those intended to treat high blood pressure. When you are prescribed something>, it is worth asking if this may be a problem.

  17. avatar Nynemillameetuh says:

    If you have a right to life you have a right to death. If the government forces either upon you it is evil.

  18. avatar TX Gun Gal says:

    Suicide is a long term solution for a short term problem. (Usually depression) Just can’t see it as a satisfactory solution.

  19. avatar Joe R. says:

    Shill plant grant-sucking-sound bs.

    The “gun culture’s” biggest problem is the Gun Grabbin POS LIB_prog_comm_globalist rino and (D) that never let la crisis go un-fluffed, or to waste.

    F ALL the broke di<k mfs who attempt to sell the "I urge everyone to do something because We're F'd up, We need to fix you".

    How many millions do you get in Fed grant money for your campaign?
    Do you take even $0.01 of foreign money?

    F all Y'all

    1. avatar Paul says:

      Incomprehensible as usual.

      1. I got the gist of it and agree completely.

  20. avatar Mark says:

    “Suicide is the 800 pound gorilla in the room that no one wants to talk about.”

    Ok, let’s talk about the 800 lb gorilla.

    Let’s start with the fact that it isn’t illegal to commit suicide. If it isn’t illegal, then its legal. Is it almost always a bad decision? Yes. Is it often associated with mental illness? Yes.
    But at the end of the day it still isn’t illegal and therefor, the gun culture doesn’t “own” it. Can we try to reduce suicides as a public good? Of course. However be careful that we don’t take on some sort of implied obligation because you can bet that the gun culture will get all of the blame and none of the credit. Much like our efforts to promote gun safety through training and safe storage programs.

  21. avatar EJQ says:

    I’m assuming she might have needed the money? I’ve known of one suicide by gun, that gun was destroyed, not returned to the family members. I don’t know if the family requested it be destroyed, but it was destroyed, nonetheless. Maybe she did not know this was an option.

  22. avatar samuraichatter says:

    Suicide prevention is similar to bullying in that there are no substitutes for giving a damn. High suicide rates are like the prevalence of spree shooters: they are symptoms of a sick society and culture. I want a culture where people rarely even think of killing themselves. That future is a long way off and we have to change a whole lot more than our perception of guns to get there.

    Thanks for giving a damn Kevin.

  23. avatar Andy T says:

    A counter to the “if you have teens make sure they can’t access your guns” argument is the recent story from Oklahoma, where a teenager fought off a home invasion with the family AR-15. If I remember correctly, three people armed with knives and brass knuckles broke into his home while his father was away. That story could have ended very differently if he had to call dad for the combination to the gun safe in order to defend himself.

  24. avatar Desert Dave says:

    “Speckles of dried blood where caked on the sides of it. ”

    Nope, I would not have bought it either!

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