Welcome to Common Gunsense

I hope this blog will provoke some thoughtful reflection about the issue of guns and gun violence. I am passionate about the issue and would love to change some misperceptions and the culture of gun violence in America by sharing with readers words, photos, videos and clips from articles to promote common sense about gun issues. Many of you will agree with me- some will not. I am only one person but one among many who think it's time to do something about this national problem. The views expressed by me in this blog do not represent any group with which I am associated but are rather my own personal opinions and thoughts.
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Monday, May 7, 2012

Guns and high profile suicides

It's so painful to watch the increasing number of suicides committed by professional athletes, by military members and even by gun rights extremists. Many homicides also become suicides when the shooter also shoots him or herself. Such was the case with gun rights extremists, J.T. Ready and Landon Jorgensen who I wrote about it in a recent post. It should be noted that both men were former Marines. There is a real problem with suicides of military members in our country. I will write about that in a minute. So let's take a look at some recent suicides. First there is the high profile shootings of professional football players. Last week the sports world was stunned when Junior Seau shot himself in the chest:
"Twenty years in the National Football League and he does not even make a few years of retirement before it ends like this for Seau, the way it ended not so terribly long ago for an old Chicago Bears safety named Dave Duerson, who also shot himself in the chest so that doctors could study his brain, find out the damage that a violent sport had done to him."
In February of 2011, professional football player Dave Duerson, also pulled the trigger on a handgun and ended his life. From the article:
Then Dave pulled the green sheets up to his neck and propped himself up on his elbows. He held a .38 Special handgun to his chest and pulled the trigger.
And a third professional football player, Ray Easterling, shot himself last month:
The 62-year-old, who police say shot himself at his home in Richmond, Virginia, played for the Atlanta Falcons during the 1970s and later sued the NFL over its handling of concussions.
He began showing signs of brain damage 20 years ago with bouts of depression and insomnia.
Then, the former safety developed symptoms of dementia as he lost the ability to focus, organise his thoughts and relate to people.
His wife, Mary Ann Easterling, said she would continue the lawsuit in which she claims the NFL tried to cover up the danger of concussion.
In the last year, the suicides of several sportsmen have been linked to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which is caused by repeated blows to the head and often leads to bouts of depression and anger.
Last year former Chicago Bears star Dave Duerson, who died in February 2011, was found to have the condition, which can only be diagnosed during a post-mortem examination.
The brains of 50 sports stars have been donated to Boston University Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, which made the diagnosis.
These recent suicides have led to a lot of discussion about brain injuries due to concussions suffered by not only football players but many in the sports world. Several of the athletes wanted their brains to be used for the study of brain injuries related to their sports injuries. How sad that it has come to that. As we learn more about the problems associated with sports injuries and most especially concussions, let's hope preventative measures will follow. Americans love the physical contact of sports like football and hockey. Many cheer when a player is checked hard into the boards at a hockey game or when a particularly hard tackle occurs on the football field. But what about the players at the other end of that check or tackle? We are now finding out that the consequences of the physical contact in some sports have led to serious problems.

Some of these athletes who have suffered from brain injuries due to that contact just cannot live with the associated disabilities and have chosen to take their own lives. There are, of course, other reasons for athletes and anyone else to commit suicide. People have found many ways to accomplish this tragic ending of life. But guns make suicide easier to accomplish. My husband's brother took a different route. He leaped off of a very high bridge into a gorge below. We will never forget. About the time we got over his death, my sister was shot to death by a suicidal man with depression and anger over a protracted and ugly divorce. But I digress.

I found this Wikipedia article about suicides and athletes. I checked the list of 57 professional and amateur athletes listed on this site who have killed themselves. There is also a sub category list of athletes according to sport with individual names of those who have committed suicide. It is sobering to read their stories. I took a look at the list of the 57 on this site who were not just American athletes, but from all over the world over the last century who have committed suicide. There is a common string among many of these sad cases. Athletes are under a lot of pressure to succeed. Many are injured along the way and suffer from career ending injuries. Many became alcoholics or drug abusers and some had domestic abuse problems. Some were women, most were men. There were golfers, divers, baseball and football players, figure skaters, jockeys, and others. Of the 57 on this list, 19 of them shot themselves. Some causes were unknown and some included poisoning, drug and alcohol poisoning, drownings, jumping from high places, suffocation, carbon monoxide poisoning, hanging and other methods. Of the women listed, none died of gunshot wounds.

Now let's look at suicides among American military. This article discusses the issue of military suicides in some detail. Veterans upon their return home from duty or during their tours of duty face all kinds of problems from mental health, lack of jobs, marriage problems, drug problems, etc. They are familiar with firearms and often use them to commit suicide. We are not doing enough to help these veterans and active duty military. The NRA would love for us to do nothing since they hate the idea that guns in the hands of the U.S. military could be dangerous. Mental health problems? Don't worry about guns. PTSD- no worry about guns. Domestic abuse among the military- don't think they would use guns. They are wrong, of course. From the article:
“Although only 1 percent of Americans have served in the military, former service members represent 20 percent of suicides in the United States,” the report stated.
Military suicide has risen over the past 10 years. The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that a veteran takes his or her own life every 80 minutes. However, the report’s authors say the true number is unknown.
“As more American troops return home from war, this issue will require increasingly urgent attention,” the report summary warned.
And further from the article:
And due to legal restrictions, commanders are not able to discuss privately owned weapons with their subordinates, even though studies indicate that preventing easy access to firearms is an effective form of suicide prevention.
Indeed. Firearms account for most suicides. But we shouldn't talk about it with the military members? Really? That's an abrogation of our national responsibility towards our military members. How did this happen? What are the legal restrictions placed on the military and how did they become law? Read this article and you will find that the NRA was behind this one. From the article:
The National Rifle Association pushed for the ban on personal gun restrictions earlier this year after learning these kinds of rules were being put in place locally at posts around the U.S. Chris Cox, director of the NRA's lobbying arm, said in a message to members earlier this year that it was "preposterous" that commanders at Fort Riley, Kan., wanted troops to register privately owned weapons kept on and off base.
Cox also denounced a proposed military-wide plan that would require "troops to register all privately owned firearms kept off base, and would have authorized commanders to require troops living off base to keep privately owned firearms and ammunition locked in separate containers," he wrote.
So, Cox wrote, the NRA and Oklahoma Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe collaborated on language in the defense bill that prohibits the secretary of defense "from issuing any requirement, or collecting or recording any information relating to the otherwise lawful acquisition, possession, ownership, carrying, or other use of a privately owned firearm, privately owned ammunition, or another privately owned weapon by a member of the Armed Forces or civilian employee of the Department of Defense' on property not owned or operated by the DOD. It also requires, within 90 days, the destruction of any existing registration information prohibited by the Act."
And further, from the article:
According to data quoted in the CNAS report, 48 percent of military suicides in 2010 took place with personally owned weapons. "Multiple studies indicate that preventing easy access to lethal means, such as firearms, is an effective form of suicide prevention," authors Harrell and Berglass wrote.
This year's defense bill, which Congress could use to repeal the gun measure, is not yet law. It was passed in May by the House but awaits final action in the Senate. Although the NRA gun rights provision was little noticed when it was first included, the CNAS recommendations about its repeal could bring new attention to the issue if senators decide to try to act on this year's defense bill. Senate majority leader Sen. Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, has said generally he'd like to move on the legislation before the end of the year, but it isn't clear when.
So once again, we are paying allegiance to the extreme agenda of the NRA and ignoring the personal safety of our military members. What makes sense about this? The New England Journal of Medicine, not exactly a biased source, had a recent article about guns and suicides. From the article:
In 2005, the most recent year for which mortality data are available, suicide was the second-leading cause of death among Americans 40 years of age or younger. Among Americans of all ages, more than half of all suicides are gun suicides. In 2005, an average of 46 Americans per day committed suicide with a firearm, accounting for 53% of all completed suicides. Gun suicide during this period accounted for 40% more deaths than gun homicide.
Why might the availability of firearms increase the risk of suicide in the United States? First, many suicidal acts — one third to four fifths of all suicide attempts, according to studies — are impulsive. Among people who made near-lethal suicide attempts, for example, 24% took less than 5 minutes between the decision to kill themselves and the actual attempt, and 70% took less than 1 hour.2
Second, many suicidal crises are self-limiting. Such crises are often caused by an immediate stressor, such as the breakup of a romantic relationship, the loss of a job, or a run-in with police. As the acute phase of the crisis passes, so does the urge to attempt suicide. The temporary nature and fleeting sway of many suicidal crises is evident in the fact that more than 90% of people who survive a suicide attempt, including attempts that were expected to be lethal (such as shooting oneself in the head or jumping in front of a train), do not go on to die by suicide. Indeed, recognizing the self-limiting nature of suicidal crises, penal and psychiatric institutions restrict access to lethal means for persons identified as potentially suicidal.
Third, guns are common in the United States (more than one third of U.S. households contain a firearm) and are lethal. A suicide attempt with a firearm rarely affords a second chance. Attempts involving drugs or cutting, which account for more than 90% of all suicidal acts, prove fatal far less often.
There is enough evidence to compel us to think seriously about the risks of guns in the home. More from the article:
Many ecologic studies covering multiple regions, states, or cities in the United States have also shown a strong association between rates of household gun ownership and rates of completed suicide — attributable, as found in the case–control studies, to the strong association between gun prevalence and gun suicide, without a counterbalancing association between gun-ownership levels and rates of nongun suicide. We recently examined the relationship between rates of household gun ownership and suicide in each of the 50 states for the period between 2000 and 2002.4 We used data on gun ownership from a large telephone survey (of more than 200,000 respondents) and controlled for rates of poverty, urbanization, unemployment, mental illness, and drug and alcohol dependence and abuse. Among men, among women, and in every age group (including children), states with higher rates of household gun ownership had higher rates of firearm suicide and overall suicides. There was no association between firearm-ownership rates and nonfirearm suicides. To illustrate the main findings, we presented data for the 15 states with the highest levels of household gun ownership matched with the six states with the lowest levels (using only six so that the populations in both groups of states would be approximately equal). In the table
Compared to other high income countries, the U.S. rate of gun suicide is very high. You can see some comparison charts here that show how much higher the gun suicide rate is in the U.S. than other high income countries. From the Brady Campaign comes this information about overall gun death rates and then gun suicide rates compared to other countries. From the article:
U.S. suicide rates overall were 30 percent lower than the other countries, but the U.S. firearm suicide rate was 5.8 times higher.  The researchers concluded based on existing research on U.S. gun suicides, “…it is probable that the United States would have an even lower rate of suicide relative to these other countries if firearms were not so readily available.” 
In this article you can compare the U.S. to other countries by clicking on gun suicides and then typing in another country. So, for example, I used the 2005 figures for the U.S. which were 5.75 gun suicides per 100,000 to Canada for 2006 which was 1.79. Now let's look at Mexico. The latest figure available was for 2001 at .69. So then, how about Brazil? It was .74 in 2000. And what about Denmark? In 2006, the rate was 1.16. And then, maybe Australia will come close? Nope. In 2008 it was .79. Or the U.K.? In 2009 the rate was .16. I've heard that Finland has a high gun suicide rate. But in 2009, it was "only" 3.39- higher than some but not as high as the U.S. You can also see that suicides account for the largest number of gun deaths overall in American. 


And finally, from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention we have this:
Although most gun owners reportedly keep a firearm in their home for "protection" or "self defense," 83 percent of gun-related deaths in these homes are the result of a suicide, often by someone other than the gun owner.
Firearms are used in more suicides than homicides.
Death by firearms is the fastest growing method of suicide.
Firearms account for 50 percent of all suicides.
I suggest to my readers that we have a serious public health and safety problem in this country. Why is that? Guns make the difference. The U.S., if you check the chart in the linked article just above, has the highest rate of gun ownership of high income countries not at war. Common sense tells us that we could save lives if we had more education about the dangers of guns in the home. Instead, the NRA and its' minions and bought and paid for politicians, seem to think that more guns make us safer. More guns in the home for self protection will surely reduce the number of gun deaths. More guns carried by more people into more places will be just the ticket.

The thing is, they are wrong. If you have a loved one with mental illness, who has just returned from a tour of duty or diagnosed with PTSD, you might think about whether it is a good idea for that person to have easy access to guns. If you have a child or teen who is having problems in school, with a relationship, is into drugs and alcohol, please think about where you store your guns if you have them at home or consider not having them in your home for a while. Kids and guns do not go well together, and most especially for suicides. If you have an elderly parent with dementia or other health problems, consider that guns in the home are not a good idea. If your good friend or relative is an athlete having problems with stress, head injuries, domestic abuse, etc., talk to them about guns and why they should not have them around readily accessible. If you have a friend or relative going through a difficult relationship break-up or the loss of a job, think about the danger of guns for both suicide and homicide. Often we read, as in the articles at the top, about murder/suicides. In many cases, the shooter is intent on committing suicide but they seem to want to take someone else or many with them on their way out  (Columbine, Virginia Tech and many other mass shootings as examples).

The NRA doesn't like us to have this discussion. Why not? Because it doesn't fit with their guns everywhere mantra and their agenda to get guns into the hands of just about anyone and everyone. If we talked common sense, perhaps gun sales would go down? Who would that hurt? The gun industry? In the end, who does a gun hurt in the hands of someone who is suicidal and shouldn't have one?- the many victims of gun suicides, their loved ones and their friends. This is a matter of safety- not stupid and dangerous political agendas. Guns are lethal and dangerous. Whose side are you on?



6 comments:

  1. The stats on suicide methods are meticulous. In places like Switzerland and the U.S., hand guns are a huge percentage of those suicides, especially among men, as well as homicides in conjunction with suicides.

    In countries where guns are less common, there are still suicides, but fewer, and with less consistently successful means. Hanging is the most common means of death by suicide in the UK for example, but more of those who attempt it survive than with firearms.

    Our military has more than 3 times the average rate of suicides of the rest of the country; previously, they consistently had a far LOWER rate of suicides than the rest of the population.

    Murder suicides occur roughly 3+ times a week in the U.S., more often than not with a firearm. Likewise, there are still the occasional murder suicide in countries like the UK, but they are rare, and fewer people die because hand guns are rarely involved. That's comparing rates per 100,000 people, not an unfair comparison of total populations.

    We need to make the deliberate and conscious decision to address the very real problems of our gun culture, which means fewer guns and less approval and endoresement of lethal force in our population. We can do it, it is in our power. What is NOT successful or useful is promoting stupid empty meaningless slogans about freedom.

    You're not more free when you're dead; you're just dead. And in many cases, in this country, you're dead because someone violated your right to live, to choose, to be safe.

    That's not freedom, that is just dumb.

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    Replies
    1. "In countries where guns are less common, there are still suicides, but fewer, and with less consistently successful means. "

      Not even close to being correct.
      This table only lists "successful" attempts.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_suicide_rate

      The United States ranks about 41st in the world. Many, many of the countries with higher suicide rates have very strict gun control or, in the case of japan, no civilian ownership of handguns.

      If the gun is the problem why don't we rank #1?

      How is it that practically ALL of Europe has a higher rate and yet Europe is touted as the model for US gun control.

      How can Japan rank #7 vs us at #41? That is a heck of a big difference in rate for an unarmed nation IF access to a gun is the problem.

      Your side is always quick to point out that this country is awash in guns.

      A more interesting table would be the link I provided with an additional column of guns/100k people.

      That way you could compare suicide rate per 100k and the legal ability of the person to have a handgun.

      I think that would be a more enlightening bit of information.

      Delete
    2. You seem to have missed the entire point of my post. I am, as usual, talking about guns as a method for suicide. Within the one link I posted, you can easily see the numbers of guns per 100,000 where the U.S ranks at the top. So more guns equals more gun suicides and more gun homicides per 100,000. I did say that other methods of suicide occur. It happens that in American, guns are the method of choice and more successful. I know you guys don't want to believe that. So you are saying that if we didn't have all of those guns, people would just find other methods to commit suicide as they do in other countries? Also, please not this at the top of the article- " his article's factual accuracy is disputed. Please help to ensure that disputed facts are reliably sourced. See the relevant discussion on the talk page. (December 2011)"

      Delete
  2. This article references the World Health Organization. It contains a chart showing the U.S. to be about in the middle for overall suicide rates per 100,000 compared to other countries- http://chartsbin.com/view/prm. It looks like many countries in Eastern Europe and Asia have high overall rates of suicide. From the article- " Risk factors for suicide include mental disorder (such as depression, personality disorder, alcohol dependence, or schizophrenia), and some physical illnesses, such as neurological disorders, cancer, and HIV infection are a major risk factor for suicide in Europe and North America; however, in Asian countries impulsiveness plays an important role. Suicide is complex with psychological, social, biological, cultural and environmental factors involved.

    How can suicide be prevented?

    Not all suicides can be prevented, but a majority can. There are a number of measures that can be taken at community and national levels to reduce the risk, including:

    Education about suicide is one of the most important steps in preventing it.
    Strategies involving restriction of access to common methods of suicide, such as firearms or toxic substances like pesticides, have proved to be effective in reducing suicide rates; however, there is a need to adopt multi-sectoral approaches involving many levels of intervention and activities.
    There is compelling evidence indicating that adequate prevention and treatment of depression and alcohol and substance abuse can reduce suicide rates, as well as follow-up contact with those who have attempted suicide."

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  3. I've thought about making a post like this, but I would use a couple of Playboy Playmates: Debbie Boostrom and Carol Vitale. Both were suffering from Terminal Diseases, but chose to end their lives through suicide by firearm.

    In the case of Boostrom, the body wasn't found for at least two weeks.

    Now, I know that 18Echo must have experience of gunshot wounds and the mess they cause. Nothing like a family member 9or friend) finding the corpse of someone who decided to end her life that way.

    Makes Marie Provost sound somewhat appealing.

    Of course, for people such as 18Echo, the fact that firearms equate to freedom is more than enough to make up for any inconvenience to the living.

    As for his "statistics", the problem is that different countries have different methods for calculating various problems such as crime, suicide, etc. We3 could toss in access to mental health services and so on.

    But, someone like 18Echo doesn't really care about the realities of the situation--it's the spin.

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  4. "I know that 18Echo must have experience of gunshot wounds and the mess they cause."

    Those days are long in my past but never forgotten. Besides, I was just well trained communications guy. A nerd before nerds had a name.

    I'm not trying to diminish the utter tragedy. Suicide by firearm has touched my life too. I'm all for education, prevention and, even, intervention. Including removing the person to a mental health facility. I just find the idea of

    "Of course, for people such as 18Echo, the fact that firearms equate to freedom is more than enough to make up for any inconvenience to the living."

    You have me there. Inconvenience or not It is a Constitutionally enumerated right. If you don't like that, there is a well documented procedure to change it.

    Until then, access to firearms has the same importance as the right to free speech (1 and 2 in the list..) and I try to be consistent with that value, even when it really is an "inconvenience to the living".

    I don't want anyone to hurt anyone else or themselves, but we have thousands of years of history telling me that that human behavior is not going to change anytime soon.

    Sometimes violence is the ONLY answer that will protect the innocent from the evil.

    As I type this, the news says "Teens rob, beat 5 people after concert"

    "http://abclocal.go.com/wabc/story?section=news/local/new_jersey&id=865515

    "A New Providence father was left unconscious and bleeding in front of his 14-year-old son, according to a police report"

    The police arrived after it was OVER to do the paper work as is the case 99% of the time. No arrests.

    What about that father. What about his son? Isn't being beaten senseless and robbed by a gang of 10-15 people an "inconvenience to the living" too?

    That father gets to look in the mirror from now on and know that when the moment came, he was NOT READY and NOT CAPABLE of defending his family.

    We likely have deep philosophical / first principle differences on these matters, but in my world that father had an OBLIGATION he did not keep. I'd rather die a thousand times than to fail that test once.

    ReplyDelete