Guns and Mental Health: A Deadly Combination

Guns and Mental Health: A Deadly Combination July 27, 2016

Preparing to die is surreal. I’m not sure how to even describe it. Imagine a dreamlike nightmare, something fantastically terrible. In some ways I felt like a marionette, watching my hands scribe the darkest words imaginable. I knew the choices I was making, yet it felt like my hands worked independent of my mind.

Why Guns and Mental Health are a Deadly Combination

I knew my death would hurt my family and friends. They’d be shocked and even miserable for a while. But life does go on. They would be okay without me.

If you have never lived through the hell of sleepless nights, been strangled by the cold hands of anxiety, you can’t understand why someone would want to die. You can’t possibly get it if you’ve never heard that scream-whisper of depression that rarely backs down, or felt the sting of worthlessness, no matter how hard you work.

Almost four years later, I thank God my life did not end on that terrible night. But I also realize how lucky I was. I simply chose the right (or wrong) method of dying. If I had bought a gun instead of pills, I would be dead. Thank God I had time, after trying to die, for someone to intervene.

Those who use guns to kill themselves are not that lucky. A gun is once and done. There is no backing down. There is no wondering if the drugs will do their job. There is no belt that might break, or airbag that might deploy. It’s a click and…you’re gone. According to The Trace, when a firearm is used in a suicide attempt, there’s an 85 percent chance of it being successful.

When a firearm is used in a suicide attempt, there's an 85% chance of it being successful.

Do you know that in Alabaster, Alabama, I can walk into the local gun shop and complete my purchase in a couple of minutes? All I need is a driver’s license or state-issued ID. Pass the call-in background check and you’re good to go.

No time to consider what I will do next. No reason to wait at all.  

For desperate people, that is a quick path to relief. Even if someone has been diagnosed with mental illness for years, suicide is often an impulsive act. And the people who say someone cannot be talked out of attempting suicide are wrong. Dead wrong.

In countless cases that I know personally, if someone had intervened on their day of desperation, they might not have attempted. If someone had interrupted the suicidal person the day of their attempt, it could have changed everything. If there was just a 24-hour waiting period, even, it could change the course of a person’s life.

But at this point, in my town, there is no waiting.

I’m not against guns. I grew up with them. One of my earliest memories is of being “wowed” by my Grandpa’s collection of shotguns and rifles. My dad is an avid hunter and every fall and winter, we fill our freezer with the spoils of his hunting trips.

I’m not anti guns, but I am pro-safety. I remember taking my handgun and shotgun to my parents’ house when Lindsey was hospitalized with postpartum depression. I feared for her safety and I couldn’t imagine tiny baby boy growing up without a mom. In time, we brought them back to our house.

A year later, when I was released from the hospital after my suicide attempt, I remember noticing the guns were suddenly gone again. I felt humiliated, but somehow I knew it was the right decision. I was too fragile and unpredictable during that time. And I also knew just how loved I was. I was wanted.

The guns have never returned.

Around here, the popular saying is, “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” But hurting and desperate people with guns do kill themselves. Regularly.

According to the CDC:

  • In 2013, suicide by guns totaled 21,175. That’s more than half of all suicides that year.
  • Suicide accounts for more than two-thirds of the 32,000 firearms deaths the United States averages every year.
  • Suicide is the second-most common cause of death for Americans between 15 and 34

According to an article by the Washington Post, in the 1993-1994 election cycle, the NRA spent $2.3 million. In the 2011-2012 election cycle, they spent $24.8 million. As long as the NRA owns the House and Senate, gun laws will not change.

But it’s time to do more than offer thoughts, prayers, and moments of silence. Something has to change or we are going to continue to lose fathers and mothers, pastors and teachers, children, and grandparents.

I’m not anti-guns. I’m anti-desperate people with guns.

*Get your copy of my brand-new book, “From Pastor to a Psych Ward: Recovery from a Suicide Attempt is Possible” today!

Want to get involved? Here’s a few ways you can help:

  1. Check out The National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention
  2. Contact your Congressman and let them know you want a mandatory waiting period at the point of sale for all new gun purchases.

Need to talk to someone? Call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

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