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 Mark 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 the firearm and when.
Mark had been caught off guard by the situation. We had worked together for nearly four years at that point and neither of us had seen anything like that. He looked up the man’s name in our retail system and found that we had not sold him the gun. She said ‘thank you’ and left, heading for the next gun 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’ll refrain from specifying make or model) with a stainless slide. Speckles of dried blood where still on the sides of it. She wanted to sell the pistol her son used to kill himself.
This time I was the one caught off guard. I politely told them that we couldn’t take it. The neighbor asked why. At the time I couldn’t think of a 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 two-thirds 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 2017 a total of 39,773 people died as a result of firearms, 23,854 were suicides. Surprisingly, when gun control arguments arise, suicide is a subject rarely brought up even by gun control advocates. That’s 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. That’s oddly appealing to someone who wants to bring their suffering to end. Unlike a falling death, a firearm suicide can be done in the comfort of your own home with a decreased chance of anyone intervening.
No one really has a good solution to this problem even though it’s by far the 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, won’t accept help and are lost.
We as gun owners need to 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 believe 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 to 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 Lifeline is open and reachable 24 hours a day at 800-273-8255. If you or a loved one is 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 helpful 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 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 secure cabinets can be had relatively inexpensively. 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 more involvement from the gun store owners. At the bare minimum, having posters or pamphlets at your gun shop to help spread awareness.
An idea I have discussed with my former coworkers is that of gun shops providing “mental health storage” of firearms for those going through a personal crisis. One thing that many gun owners share is a general mistrust of the government when it comes to our guns.
I’d like to see shops given legal protection to hold firearms that have been voluntarily surrendered by someone who wants help until the owner has resolved their issues or to have them easily transfer the firearms to a family member or friend. That would make it easier for someone to get help without the 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 guns properly, and seeking help, it will show that unlike gun control advocates, we can make a real difference.