The Truth About Firearm Suicide

TTAG reader Ellen F. writes:

I appreciate that you guys tell the truth about firearm suicide. The way some liberals mislead people, lumping suicide in with “gun violence” is unconscionable. It’s unconscionable not only because it’s plainly agenda-driven and dishonest, but because it keeps Americans in the dark about a real, ongoing tragedy. Fifty people every day, many of them veterans, take their own lives with firearms. Their stories should be told, not hidden in a false statistic.

Instead, thanks to anti-gunners’ lies, people who are suffering feel even more alone and isolated. Many wouldn’t know where to get help, even if they were willing to seek it.

This issue has affected me personally, and my experience motivated me to participate in some initiatives with the AFSP, which recently partnered with the NSSF to fight firearm suicide. I hope other pro-gun Americans will consider doing these things.

Also, if you feel your readers might appreciate it, I want to share this poem I wrote (changing the name) in honor of someone who never sought help, never said a word to anyone, and never indicated in any way that he was fighting this battle until it was too late.

The Ballad of Willie Lester

Willie Lester was a man
who toured in Afghanistan.
He left when he was barely 18.

On that day, his mother cried
with sunshine in her eyes;
her son looked better than she’d ever seen.

He was decorated some
for how well he used his gun,
but mostly for the lives he fought to save.

He showed valor in a time
when his brothers lost their minds;
he was smart, strong, quick on his feet and brave.

He left with a purple heart,
but that was just the start
of the fearless fighter’s suffering and pain.

He came home where he grew up
and frequently threw up
from the flashbacks of his buddies maimed and slain.

Surrounded by the sound of the screaming
battleground,
at night he never knew if he was dreaming—

but in public he was fine
as he laughed, drank and dined,
telling war stories his mom could understand.

Little did Ms. Lester know
death had dealt the fatal blow
long ago to her exceptional young man.

One day, Willie got dressed,
hung his medals on his chest
and wrote a letter for when he was dead:

Ma, my head’s so full of war,
there’s nothing left from before,
so I have to put a bullet there instead.

He pulled the trigger fast.
All his neighbors heard the blast
and stretched their rubber necks to see the sight

of the man whose violent pain
pulverized his brain
til he was killed by his own will to fight.

comments

  1. avatar Jon says:

    Good poem. Conveys how many combat veterans feel.

    1. avatar jwtaylor says:

      No, it doesn’t. “He was killed by his own will to fight” is a ridiculous and false caricature of veterans. It’s just another, more polite form of the shouts of “baby killer”.

      1. avatar Jon says:

        There are alot of us who saw heaving fighting and did ok when we got out. I owe my attitude and perseverance to my relationship with Christ and my wonderful understanding wife. But i know several veterans who did not have these resources or rejected these resources and contemplated suicide for reasons similar to this poem explains. These men may be the minority but they still exist. It does not help that Hollywood and the media glamorizes and glorifies these examples. Those of us who did ok with killing and war do not get the attention (maybe because we dont want the attention).

        I do agree with your assessment of the last stanza. No one is killed by their own will to fight. This line may be a polite way to push “toxic masculinity”.

        1. avatar jwtaylor says:

          That’s how I read it.

  2. avatar Michael Buley says:

    Very touching, to say the least. Thanks for this article, and sharing her letter and poem. That was powerful.

  3. avatar Michael says:

    “I hope other pro-gun Americans will consider doing these things.”

    From the linked article:
    “The best way to help protect the person at risk is to remove all lethal means, including firearms, from the home during the period of suicide risk. Other measures such as safe storage are reasonable but secondary to lethal means removal to help prevent suicide.”

    Annnd there it is. Confiscation of property and ‘common sense’ safe storage, how very pro-gun.

    1. avatar Ing says:

      This is actually good advice — if it’s urging family and friends to do this for their loved ones . Enabling the government to do this to people (even if it’s meant to be for their own good), not so much.

      1. avatar Scoutino says:

        I’m not sure if hiding all ropes and taking his shoe laces, medicines, razor blades and kitchen knives would help someone with suicidal thoughts. Should we restrain them from driving, access to traffic and high places too?!

        Tools are not killing people. Taking away some potentially deadly tools doesn’t save people.

        Taking somebody’s guns away to prevent him from committing suicide makes about as much sense as taking guns from dangerous violent person to render him harmless.

        And maybe shooting or hunting is the last bright thing in his life, making it bearable. Taking away that only joy may be the last push over the edge. Do you want to live with that on your conscience?

        1. avatar Ron Bortmas says:

          If a person truly is focused on Suicide, they will find a way. Hiding guns, knives or razor blades is not an effective preventive measure. People can overdose on Aspirin.

    2. avatar Leighton Cavendish says:

      ” remove all lethal means”-So…all knives…bottles…windows…tools…water…pills…rope…sheets…etc etc etc???

      1. avatar Kenneth says:

        No matter how bad it makes this author(or anyone else) feelz, there is only one way to “remove all lethal means” from a man, and it involves a straightjacket and a padded cell. Oh, and 24/7 monitoring. Anyone who says different is either lying or mistaken. Usually to themselves over too much guilt.

  4. avatar former water walker says:

    I have an idea…don’t kill yourself. They do the deed in Japan generally without a firearm. As Micheal sez “how very pro-gun”. WTF is going on at TTAG?!?

    1. avatar Michael says:

      “I’m a proud supporter of guns, but I’m gonna help pass legislation to confiscate guns from ‘suicidal’ people. A definition which can arbitrarily be defined by the government, while completely ignoring it’s a constitutional infringement ”

      10/10 gun owner

      They should retract this article.

  5. avatar jwtaylor says:

    I appreciate the sentiment, but this really perpetuates the mythos of the crazy suicidal OIF/OEF vet. Most of that stems from the famous “22 a Day” statistic, based off the VA’s 2012 Suicide Data Report.

    When it come OEF/OIF veterans suicides per day, the number isn’t 22. It’s about 1. Let that sink in.

    If you look at the actual numbers, the average age of the veteran who commits suicide is in their late 50s. That’s a far cry from the average OEF/OIF veteran.

    Veterans deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan have a lower rate of suicide than their counterparts who never deployed. Even further still, service members who actually participated in ground combat have a lower suicide rate those who did not, by around 20%.

    Veterans do have a higher rate of suicide than the general population, but clearly combat isn’t the issue, when actual combatants have a lower suicide rate than non-deployed service members. And again, the average age of those veterans committing suicide is far outside the OIF/OEF peer group. When we account for that, OEF/OIF vets who actually participated in combat are about have a suicide rate about 30% higher than the general population.

    Unlike previous wars, veterans of OEF/OIF are most likely to commit suicide within the first 3 years after getting out. In every other war, it’s been the opposite. Part of that is due to the fact that the factors that put someone as high risk for suicide are concentrated in recent veterans. Young, unmarried, without a college degree, and away from family members. Then, they lose their job. That’s just a very high risk pool, but it has nothing to do with combat.

    What about suicide and TBI? Doesn’t that make someone just ready to snap? Nope. When we look at Traumatic Brain Injuries, less than 10% of the OIF/OEF veteran population has had a TBI. And of that less than 10%, only 1/3 of those report any PTSD or Depression. Of those, only 10% are symptomatic after 1 year. We are getting down to real small numbers there.

    Veterans do commit suicide. And combat vets commit suicide, just not as often as non-combat vets.

    Constantly perpetuating this myth of the suicidal OEF/OIF vet is bad of the veteran community, and bad for the country as a whole.

    1. avatar Excedrine says:

      Got any sources for this?

      1. avatar jwtaylor says:

        Read the survey I cited. Or just search “the truth about veteran suicide”. You’ll get tons of research supporting what I wrote.

    2. avatar Rusty Chains says:

      Thanks JWT, you have helped put perspective on a sad and difficult subject.

    3. avatar New Continental Army says:

      Thank you JWT. I was trying to find the words to what you wrote but I can’t improve on that. Having personally served in Iraq in combat, I know a few men who have committed suicide from my unit. But, none of them seemingly did out of PTSD from combat. No one in my unit had any sympathy whatsoever for AQI. The men that I did know that killed themselves had a range of issues outside of military service. I don’t think veteran suicide is anything like how the media portrays it, just like anything else the media portrays.

    4. avatar Red in CO says:

      Yeah, I’ve read that veterans, and especially combat veterans, actually have a FAR lower suicide rate than the general population. Which actually makes a lot of sense; the military goes to great lengths to ensure that unstable individuals aren’t sent into the pressure cooker of warfare. Plus I understand that suicides by people currently serving is quite rare even though most of the military possesses three main traits that frequently correspond with suicide in the US (young, male, easy access to firearms). Of course this is not universally true and any suicide is a tragedy, ESPECIALLY when it’s done by a hero. But the idea that anybody who goes to war returns as a basket case is a harmful and disrespectful myth. At the same time though, we’ve gotta be careful not to go too far in the other direction. It’s almost like people are complicated, individual circumstances vary wildly, and no two people will have identical reactions to the same experience, necessitating individualized reactions that are not based on broad, shallow stereotypes!

      That’s…. a little long for a hashtag; no wonder nobody seems to understand it

      1. avatar Excedrine says:

        But from where does this information come? Some sources would be nice.

        1. avatar jwtaylor says:

          Again, I cited the source my comment. Don’t be too lazy to use google and actualy read something.

  6. avatar Michael says:

    This is from the article you linked “This education focuses on risk factors and warning signs, and actions that must be taken: temporary removal of firearms from the home during periods of risk, safe storage (locked and unloaded) at all times; and denying sale when appropriate.”

    This isn’t a pro-gun movement at all, don’t pretend that it is.

    1. avatar jwtaylor says:

      It’s another example of a population that doesn’t want “them” to have guns, or rights. It’s a simple as that.

      1. avatar Michael says:

        “iTs OkAy tO sTeAl gUnZ wHEn gUn OwnErZ dO iT!” -‘common sense’ gun owner

  7. avatar Garrison Hall says:

    Suicide is closely related to clinical depression. Not all people who contemplate taking their own lives suffer from depression but most do. What happens is that what we sometimes define as “the depths of depression” is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. When this happens thoughts of morbidity leading to thoughts about suicide are common. If you are depressed and are experiencing frequent thoughts of suicide, you are in a danger zone. I know this sounds simplistic, but if this is happening to you the very best thing you can do is wait—the thoughts of morbidity and suicide will pass when the depression lessens.

  8. avatar jwtaylor says:

    When I was early on in the army, the army put me in a training slot. This was maddening. I got to hear young soldiers constantly complain about war. They also volunteered and competed for slots to go back to it as much as possible. Something didn’t jive. I didn’t get it until I went. It was horrible, and I did everything I could do stay there, and go back. Because it was wonderful.

    If you would like to understand how veterans actually feel about war, and coming home (without the honor of enlisting), I would highly suggest Sebastian Junger’s work.

    Read War and read Tribe.
    https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7519640-war
    https://www.amazon.com/Tribe-Homecoming-Belonging-Sebastian-Junger/dp/1455566381

    To paraphrase my favorite quote from War to the best of my ability:
    “Combat is not all of your emotions and experiences multiplied by 100. Combat is all of your emotions and experiences multiplied some number you’ve never even heard of.
    It’s not where you find out if you’re going to die.It’s where you find out if you get to live.
    And never underestimate what a young man will do to roll that dice one more time.”

    This video is a nice start.

    1. avatar GS650G says:

      Met Sebastian junger at a conference he spoke at. He has seen it all without being a soldier. Strong man.

    2. avatar Kenneth says:

      “It is well that war is so terrible or else we would grow too fond of it” – Robert E. Lee

  9. avatar Darkman says:

    I have personally known 4 people who have committed suicide. As well as 1 who attempted suicide. 1 drove a car in front of a train. 2 hung their selves. 1 overdosed and 1 shot their self. When someone makes the decision to end their life. They will find a way regardless of what everyone else believes. There many reasons why people kill themselves. None of which most people will ever understand. People always want analyze the why because they think they can save everyone with a little help. This is far from the truth. Sometimes people just choose to no longer live. This is their choice and their right. Possibly their only true right. Self Determination. While I understand everyone wants to help people who are down or depressed. You can’t stop someone killing themselves unless they want the help. Which usually means they never wanted to commit suicide in the first place.

    1. avatar Michael says:

      Entirely agree.

    2. avatar Gralnok says:

      I totally agree. The real issue is not what people choose to kill themselves with, but rather, it’s making their lives worth living and giving them a good enough reason to not kill themselves.

  10. avatar Ralph says:

    I lost two friends to suicide. One jumped from a tall building. One hung himself with a wire. Neither used a gun. Neither was a veteran. They were just two nice guys who lost their sense of purpose and were drifting through life aimlessly.

    Loss of purpose is not the only reason people kill themselves, but it is a notable reason.

    1. avatar Gralnok says:

      A sense of purpose is what gives us drive. Without it, we just exist aimlessly.

  11. avatar Daniel says:

    My sister killed herself by cutting her throat with a razor blade and me and my mom had to clean up the blood that was all over the floor. When I go I don’t want to make a mess for anyone so I won’t use a gun.

  12. avatar Ed Rogers says:

    It’s truly a gross injustice that the anti 2A crowd misuse suicide statistics.

    One of the “benefits” of employing a firearm is efficiency. Unless you’re grossly unfamiliar with a gun you will likely get the job done.

    Sometimes, there truly is no hope. Terminal disease can exact a grueling toll, for instance. My only problem (using a gun) is the aftermath that others would have to deal with.

    I wouldn’t have the guts to end myself though.

    1. avatar jwtaylor says:

      I’ve known two different people, both very well versed with firearms, that failed to kill themselves with a gun. One used his service 12 gauge (while on duty, none the less). Took his face off, but he lived until the cancer he was trying to escape killed him. The other laid his temple on his 243 and pulled the trigger. Lost an eye. Lived long enough to recover, then walked out of the hospital and directly into oncoming traffic. That did the trick.
      The last time I checked, about 17% of the people who attempt suicide with a firearm live.
      It’s not the best way to go.

      1. avatar bob says:

        Being heavily embedded in the medical community, I agree you are correct JWTAYLOR.
        People get a distorted view of how effective a bullet is by the movies, as its been discussed before here, often times it takes quite a few rounds and some down time to kill someone, sometimes its one and done, shot placement is the key with a pinch of chance.
        Ones body also tries to reject killing itself as you have self preservation and will usually skew the shot at the last second, witnessed this more times than I care to count, lots of one armed guys.
        Its just a tool, the article below I posted talks about how rope is the go to choice in areas that don’t have readily access to firearms, this is because it’s what people know works.
        Firearms aren’t chosen because of their efficiency, they’re used because they’re known to work.

        My area, overdoses are the most popular.
        Other choices: alarm clock cord, drano, vehicle (planned crash), fire, suffocation, rope, cutting/bleeding, vehicle (jumping in front of one), drowning, jumping, starvation.

        1. avatar New Continental Army says:

          Starvation!? Wow. You gotta be one hardcore determined SOB to starve yourself to death.

        2. avatar bob says:

          NCA,

          I’m watching someone do it as we speak. Looking worse day by day.

          Funny thing about suicide.

          Everyone screams that if you see something, say something, save everybody.

          So when I called my local suicide prevention mental health services, they said they can send a case worker out, but unless this person is actively trying to commit suicide and says out loud they want to kill themselves, then there isn’t anything they can do to stop them.

          Your rights fully protect you to starve or eat yourself to death, you can chain smoke cigarettes or consume alcohol until you die, perfectly legal.

          Think about that.

          I had a friend go crazy, lock himself in his basement, spread all his firearms onto the pool table and talk crazy nonsense all day while shitting in paint cans. Called the State police to get him help…

          “as long as he hasn’t harmed himself or others, we cannot interfere”

          So I call bull crap on preventing violence.

          Violence is best dealt with by being ready for it.

    2. avatar LarryinTX says:

      Classmate in high school had a 15 year old daughter and 9 year old son. Daughter shot herself, didn’t quite make it, lived around 25 more years as a vegetable. A week after she shot herself, her little brother hung himself successfully. In the face of their efforts the marriage did not survive. Suicide is an awful thing, especially when children are involved. We knew another child of 13 who managed to hang herself while committed to a suicide prevention facility by her Mom. She’d been suicidal for several years.

  13. avatar bob says:

    I think a lot shine more light onto the veteran suicide because it gives them the answer they’re looking for.
    “why would anyone kill themselves?”
    Oh, because he’d troubled by war, that makes sense…..

    Of all the suicides I’ve been to, very few were veteran and even fewer were PTSD induced vets.
    Nearly all however have the same underlying cause, the inability to cope with life.
    The truth is, some people can handle stress, life, war, work, etc.. some cannot, all to varying degrees.

    I wanted to send this article to TTAG but it seems since the conversion all that comes back is a cold shoulder.

    Whether or not you agree with assisted suicide, this doctor seems to have a grasp on why people do it.

    https://tonic.vice.com/en_us/article/434yaj/a-doctor-built-a-machine-that-helps-people-die?utm_campaign=broad&utm_source=vicefbusads

    Where I live, suicide is VERY high and I very much agree that suicides should not be part of the discussion about firearm violence, they’re just another tool in the millions of ways you can choose to go.

    BTW, I read the end of the poem as if his choice to fight for his country is what eventually lead to his death. His choosing to fight lead to his death. Had he not enlisted, he may still be alive idea.

  14. avatar el Possum Guapo Standartenfuher " they think we're making pizza's Oberst von Burn says:

    I was going to commit suicide once . Then I found out it’s a felony in this state.

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