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COMMENTARY BY RAMON PRESSON: The smoking gun no one is talking about

It’s doubtful that the debate over gun control has ever been more heated or the rhetoric from both sides more caustic than it is currently. Fueled by strong emotions over the 2012 deadly theatre shooting in Colorado, the gunning down of shoppers in an Oregon mall, and the unthinkable massacre of elementary school children in Connecticut, one side is calling for stricter gun control measures while the other side protests any perceived threat to their constitutional right to bear arms, while also claiming that the solution to preventing mass murders is to arm more law-abiding citizens with guns.

The focus is clearly on stopping repeats of exceptionally horrific and senseless killings that have been too numerous since the shocking incidents on the Columbine and Virginia Tech campuses years ago. While the psychological profile of such killers is largely agreed upon, the consensus stops there. How to engage the matter of mental health and what to do about guns and bullets is a divisive issue, the sides battling it out on Facebook, in state and national legislatures, and in newspaper editorials and subscriber letters.

But there is a smoking gun on the scene of this crisis that is currently being ignored. While our gaze and the media stare is fixed on the more rare and attention-seizing tragedies, the bodies in much greater numbers continue to pile up daily behind the journalism. Over 38,000 people commit suicide in the U.S. annually. Suicide is the fourth leading cause of adult deaths in this country. There are four male suicides for every female suicide though three times as many women as men make suicide attempts.  This statistical paradox is explained by the fact that men tend to use more violent means when attempting suicide—jumping, hanging, but mainly by shooting themselves. Bullets are unforgiving.

As an assistant pastor and a professional counselor since 1985 I have been only too well acquainted with the faces of these statistics. Too many times I’ve been called to the scene of a suicide (home, woods, parking lot) or to a hospital where I met the family in the ER or the ICU waiting room. Too often I’ve tried to find the words to say at funerals. Only too frequently have I met with shaken family members in my counseling office, often years after their loved one’s death.

According to data gathered by the American Society for Suicide Prevention, although most gun owners reportedly keep a gun in their home for “protection” or “self-defense” 83 percent of gun-related deaths in these homes are the result of suicide, often by someone other than the gun owner. It is simply a statistical fact: more firearms are used in suicides than homicides annually in the U.S.

But you won’t hear much about that these days. Furthermore the gun lobbyists answer with a position void of empathy and compassion: “Suicide victims at least have their lives ended by choice whereas murder victims don’t get such a choice.” Can we not agree that an unnecessary and tragic death is an unnecessary and tragic death period, regardless of the cause or motive?

So this week while you read in the newspaper or hear on television the story of another gang-related shooting, what you will not read/hear about is the suicidal shooting of an unemployed worker in his home, leaving a devastated wife and two traumatized children.  You will not know by merely reading his January obituary that a depressed Tennessee college student became one of the 38,000 when he loaded his father’s pistol. 

Because of the embarrassment and shame of having a spouse/parent/child commit suicide, many family members will not speak out for gun control, including the insertion of waiting periods which would prevent a high number of impulsive suicides – as proven in New York City where gun control measures have lowered the suicide rate to half the national average. Silenced by humiliation and continuous grief these victims cannot speak out and plead for something constructive to be done to help reduce the number of future families knowing such a haunting ache. They are in shock and speechless so I am speaking for them.


Author and therapist, Ramon Presson, PhD is the founder of LifeChange Counseling and the Marriage Center of Franklin, TN.

Posted on: 1/16/2013


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