Recently, The Forum has been addressing the important topic of suicide and prevention. In this letter, I will discuss guns and gun control and how it relates to suicide.
There are 33,000 gun deaths per year in the United States; about 22,000 (or 2 out of 3) of those gun deaths are suicides. Of all suicides in the U.S., more than half are with a gun. The topics of suicide and guns are inseparable; it is a well-known issue in the 2A community.
One of the primary gun control proposals by anti-gun activists and politicians is “universal background checks.” This policy doesn’t close any loopholes, rather it criminalizes the private transfer of guns unless the transfer is mediated by a dealer. Imagine a gun owner is suicidal and they want to transfer all their guns to a friend for safekeeping while they deal with their mental health. If this gun control policy is enacted, this transfer would be illegal unless the gun owner pays significant fees because background checks are not free. If the goal is to separate suicidal people from guns, this is not the way to do it.
Another popular gun control proposal is “red flag laws” or “extreme risk protection orders.” These laws allow police, family members and certain other people to petition a judge to grant and order police to seize a person’s guns if that individual is determined to be an imminent risk to themselves or others. Proponents of these laws say a direct approach with red flag laws will save people from themselves. Thea Jorgensen, in her Feb 5th letter, makes this argument. I wholeheartedly disagree. The primary solution is to get people to talk about their mental health and voluntarily seek treatment, to “break the silence” as it were and not keep their bad thoughts bottled up. A red flag law would make this problem worse because it discourages people from discussing their mental health at all if it means risking thousands of dollars of equipment, their hobby, and their means to protect themselves. These laws would turn families and counselors against the people who need help.
Even before red flag laws were proposed, it has been well-known in the 2A community that therapists are no friends to gun owners. Under federal law, one of the disqualifications from ever owning a gun is being involuntarily committed. This is the same category that violent felons are treated as. Gun owners are encouraged to never tell a therapist they own guns; if the therapist already knows they own guns, they are encouraged to never tell the therapist they are suicidal. This is the opposite of what we want.
- Suicide numbers keep rising in North Dakota and Minnesota, but there's help and hope
- Forum Editorial: Let’s talk about suicide and ‘Breaking the Silence’
Mental illness is already heavily stigmatized, and discussions of gun control only make this problem worse, especially after a mass shooting when the mentally ill are vilified as threats to public safety. Getting treatment, or even just support from family and friends, should not be contingent on giving up one’s constitutional rights.