Mental Health and Firearms

Trigger Warnings: Discussion of suicide, violence, guns

In the wake of the waking nightmare brought to Smalltown America in the form of the murder of 20 young children and 6 educators in Newtown, CT, firearms and the right to possess them once again returned to America’s field of vision. With it, though, came a new focus on mental illness and how that played a role that horrible day. There is no doubt that the shooter in this case and too many others like it in the last two years (and throughout our history) were not mentally well. While very true, it’s also readily apparent that the right wing and the gun lobby are simply using this fact to shift blame and attention away from the guns.

The unwinnable firearm debate is not what I’m writing about today, though, nor the mass shootings or the shooters themselves. Still, it is important to raise the events that have inspired this post, and which may ultimately inform my view and yours of the topic of this post.

Full Disclosure: I’m of two minds on firearms. I like them, they go boom, teehee! It excites the inner idiot in me. That said, I believe that for the most part, personal ownership of firearms should be heavily restricted and we should see an assault weapons ban in the style of Australia’s. If we want truly responsible firearm ownership, then it’s only logical that psychiatric assessments among other restrictions should be the default, for everyone’s safety.

I’m fascinated by guns – I like them, and I’d like to own one. Technologically, I find them interesting and they are otherwise exciting. I’ve been thinking over which one(s) I’d like to own, and I think I’ve whittled it down to two primary choices, even though I still legally could not own one of them, the FN P90, as well as the FN Five-SeVen. The P-90 is still illegal in the US for civilians (or, well, where I live, anyway) as it is fully automatic, firing ~900 rounds per minute. The Five-SeVen is a remarkable pistol. Both use the NATO standard 5.7×28 round (thus the name). I didn’t come to discuss and rate firearms, of course, but I just wanted to demonstrate my interest and the obvious amount of thought I’ve put into this.

I’ve discussed many times the fact that I suffer from depression, among other things, which results in periodic suicidal tendencies and, at least twice, suicide attempts. Both times, I clearly had no intention of killing myself, because they were fairly weak attempts and didn’t work out very well. That’s the thing about guns, though. They take that uncertainty out of the equation. Odds are good that, regardless of how well you mean to do it, you’ll die if you shoot yourself, as most people would shoot themselves in the head.

This is the tricky part about suicidal tendencies. Some might say “If you want to kill yourself, you’ll find a way,” and certainly there is some truth to that. There are countless ways to do it, some completely painless, some quick, some slow, but few take as little thought, time, and effort as a gun. You have to feel the pain with that knife, jump from that bridge, feel consciousness slipping away with those pills. The gun? You probably won’t even hear the trigger cycle by the time it’s over, and that’s the appeal… and the danger.

When you present to a mental health professional, they are obligated to act if they feel that you are a danger to yourself or others, but you don’t need to be a danger to others to see the risk in owning a firearm. I personally don’t even know that I could ever shoot someone else… but myself? Those nights when I’m lonely and depression has gripped me? When I’m broke, and hungry, and tired? I certainly don’t know that I would not. There are no second chances, no time to change your mind, and in all likelihood, no real chance of failure and redemption.

The point of this article, to my mind, is not even a question of whether someone would hurt someone else with a firearm. The big question is whether or not you would hurt YOURSELF. If I bought a gun, my intention with it would certainly not be to kill myself when I bought it. But if it’s there that one wrong day…

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