Guns, Suicide, and Casper, WY

Guns, Suicide, and Casper, WY March 19, 2013

NPR’s Kirk Siegler did a heart-wrenching profile on today’s All Things Considered about the connection between guns, gun culture, and suicide.

The story focused the city where I reside: Casper, WY.

Last year, there were more suicides in Natrona County than anywhere else in Wyoming.

The soft-spoken county coroner saw them all.

“My last suicide was a week ago, and yes, it was a male with a gunshot wound,” Connie Jacobson says in her office on the outskirts of the small, wind-swept city of Casper. Beneath her is the morgue, where the bodies of suicide victims are brought.

Her latest case fits a pattern. In Wyoming, it’s mostly men who kill themselves, and most use guns. Jacobson knows this grim reality both professionally and personally.

“Twenty years ago, my husband died by suicide, and also his brother died later that same year, by suicide,” she says. Both were by firearm.

In her spare time, Jacobson volunteers for local suicide prevention efforts. She says suicide is one of the biggest public health problems facing Wyoming. For her, the key is keeping people away from any lethal means during a time of crisis.

“If a person is suicidal and is serious about it, they’re going to find a method,” she says.

But talking about the preferred method in Wyoming — guns — has never been easy here. Asked what her own relationship is with guns, Jacobson pauses.

“I guess I’ve never thought about that, nobody’s ever asked me about that. I have a nice relationship with guns,” she says. “I was a sport shooter for many, many years after my husband died. I hunt. I appreciate a firearm, so I have no problem with firearms.”

No problem with firearms? Well, she really just realizes that if she publicly admitted to having a problem with them…she would never get re-elected. In Wyoming, a love of guns is very important to the job of County Coroner.

Listening to her voice, I do not believe that she really believes that guns are not part of the problem.

In Wyoming, gun culture is a form of cultural psychosis.

As a politician, I was too chicken to challenge it myself. I sold my soul on the gun issue…and it did not get me any extra votes. Oh, do I have need to repent!

Guns are not just a quaint aspect of Western culture, they are part of a serious social problem.

The NPR story left me feeling sad. It left me feeling sick.

Take a listen to the whole NPR story here.

More reflections on guns to come.

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