Most people playing the lottery or going to Vegas set a limit—an amount beyond which they won’t gamble. Don’t climb higher than you’re willing to fall. Although few consider it as such, a gun in the home is a form of gambling. The stakes are the lives of family members
Everyone buying a gun has a fantasy, concerning its use. Some see defense against home invasion. Others may see a successful hunt or protection against some government action. What they do not imagine is that it is they, themselves, their child, or their spouse who is most likely to be a victim of the gun.
Denial is a common psychological defense mechanism in which one may fantasize that he, alone, can run through a car wash without getting wet. Statistically, someone in the home is more likely to be killed or injured by a home gun than is an intruder. A 2014 study in Abstracts of Internal Medicine concludes that the presence of a gun in the home doubles the risk of homicide while tripling the risk for suicide. According to the Center for Disease Control, suicide by firearm is the fourth leading cause of death for ages 15-34. It is the third leading cause of death for ages for ages 35-65-plus, and for ages 10-14. Most U.S. shooting deaths — 60 percent are suicides. The United States leads the world in suicides of children ages 5-14. We should not be proud of this distinction.
Depression is a psychiatric disorder that can be fatal. It may strike during moments of crisis and transition: A child becomes a teen, a young person begins a career, a new baby, job loss, a divorce, an injury, drug addiction or a chronic illness. It may lurk in the lives of older people as their children move away and their own circle shrinks. Depression can be a voice of despair and hopelessness — “My life is over. There no future ...” It can drown any other argument. There are higher suicide rates in some other countries, but guns are the most common method here. Suicide can be impulsive. If a gun is readily available no time is needed for planning. You don’t come back from an overdose by a 9 mm.
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I worked for over 30 years as a clinical social worker in a North Carolina state hospital program for school age children, an addiction center, and at Women’s Prison. I have talked to hundreds of patients about depression and suicidal thoughts, and inquired whether they had a gun in their home. I have seen the tragic consequences of unforeseen problems between firearms and depressive illness. In spite of other medical advances, depression is a condition that has continued to increase. It has been called the world’s No. 1 health problem.
In North Carolina, we have decreased mental health services through the poorly conceived notion that we can’t afford them. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, the age-adjusted suicide rate in the United States has increased by 24 percent between 1999 and 2014. U.S. psychiatric beds were reduced by 35 percent between 1998 and 2013. We currently provide about 22 beds per 100,000 people. Germany provides 127 beds per 100,000 for comparison.
Among members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, only Italy, Chile, Turkey and Mexico provide fewer beds per 100,000 than the United States. Reductions in psychiatric beds have been associated with increased suicide rates.
When it is in clearly in the national interest to increase gun regulation, how have we come to this calamitous marriage of depressive illness and firearms? There is the channeling of millions of dollars in protection money paid by a multi-billion dollar firearms industry, laundered through an advocacy and propaganda group called the National Rifle Association, and passed on as payola to unscrupulous congresspersons of both parties, but largely Republican. Both North Carolina senators, Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, are beneficiaries of NRA largess.
For spin, the NRA is as good as it gets. It hase a tight, concise message. Gun ownership is as much a right as breathing air. Criminals and crime are flooding our nation. There is no need for a license to carry a concealed weapon. People with psychiatric illness should be allowed firearms. Any example of a gun-owner repelling a home invasion is big news. It is a potent myth charged with fantasies of manliness, citizenhood and patriotism.
There is, however, one thing that they don’t tell you. If you are involved in an adverse event, a dead child, a suicide, a horrific accident involving an “unloaded” gun, the illusion is broken. You will stand alone, and you will realize that they have failed you in every possible way.
Adams Wofford of Durham was a clinical social worker for over 30 years at John Umstead Hospital, Dorothea Dix Hospital, Women’s Prison, and Alcohol and Drug Addiction Treatment Center.