As I’ve previously mentioned, I’m an attorney who works for the Federal Government. One of the things that the Federal Government emphasizes is employee training; both in terms of training to better perform or jobs, as well as safety-related training that doesn’t really relate to our jobs. In the interest of preventing suicides, our entire office was recently made to attend a 90 minute long suicide prevention class. This class was given by a person (an attorney, coincidentally) who attempted suicide by overdose and survived, and now teaches and writes about suicide prevention. During the class, the instructor made a variety of anti gun comments with which I found myself in disagreement. Since she invited us to contact her with any feedback or questions, I sent her an email that evening after work, and thought I would post it and some further comments here:
I attended your 8:00am suicide prevention training Monday at the [redacted location] (I was the African American Attorney in the middle of the room, just in case you happen to remember me out of the hundreds of people you met today). Overall, I found your lecture to be very moving, and I thank you for sharing your personal story. The reason I write this email is because I find myself in profound but respectful disagreement with some of the comments you made regarding to firearms. I was debating whether to contact you at all, but after the way that you shared so much of your personal life with us, I felt compelled to in turn share the feedback that you mentioned you were open to receiving.
I. Statistics Regarding firearms and Suicides
Regarding the suicide rate and firearms, I believe you stated something to the effect that firearm ownership increases the risk of suicide by 5 fold. This statement doesn’t seem to be supported by the statistics I’m familiar with, but as I’m sure we’ll agree, statistics can be massaged to support just about any position. So rather than arguing those statistics, I would like to note the suicide rates in countries with relatively permissive firearm laws (e.g. the USA) and countries with relatively restrictive firearm laws (e.g. Japan). Looking at those numbers (as can be found at http://www.guncite.com/firearm_control_gcgvintl.html ) Japan has a much higher suicide rate than the US, as do other similarly situated countries. I won’t opine as to the cause for those numbers, other than to say that whatever the reason, it doesn’t seem to be caused by the availability of firearms.
Moreover, looking at the CDC’s most recent suicide stats ( http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/Suicide-DataSheet-a.pdf ), there were about 32,000 suicides in 2005. Based upon other stats I’ve read, about 50% of suicides involve a firearm, so I’ll assume that number is roughly correct for the year 2005 as well. Also, depending upon which study is believed to be most accurate, between 1/3 and 1/2 of all American households lawfully contain a firearm, with many millions more unlawfully containing firearms. Note that firearms ownership is spread through the population’s socioeconomic strata, and speaking from first hand experience, I know quite a few Attorneys that own firearms. Additionally, those who don’t have a firearm can often acquire one quite easily, either lawfully or unlawfully. So, I think it is safe to say that of the approximately 300,000,000 residents in the country, roughly 150,000,000 have access to a firearm, and about 16,000 of those individuals use a firearm to kill themselves each year. Therefore, if 16,000 people commit suicide each year using a firearm, that is only about 0.01% of the USA’s approximately 150,000,000 residents who have access to a firearm. Even if my rough estimates are off by a factor of 10, we’re still only talking about 0.1 % of firearm owners. While every suicide is terribly tragic, that 0.01% (or even 0.1%) of firearm owners who kill themselves is not statistically significant enough to make any meaningful statement about correlation, much less causation, between firearm ownership and suicide. It therefore strikes me as improper to effectively blame firearms when the connection between firearm ownership and suicide is so slight.
II. Reasons for firearm Ownership, Generally
During your lecture, you mentioned attempts at persuading Army veterans (and other people in general, I assume) to not personally own firearms, on the theory that the firearm not being present will reduce their risk of suicide, and that they don’t need to own firearms. I disagree with the idea that private citizens should be encouraged not to own firearms, and thought I would share with you a few reasons why law abiding, non-suicidal individuals such as myself own firearms.
a. Self Defense.
First and foremost, a firearm is an effective means of self defense against violent criminals. As far as statistical evidence of this fact, the National Self Defense Survey, as conducted by Florida State University criminologists in 1994, indicates that Americans use guns in self defense 2,500,000 times per year (most of those uses don’t even involve actually discharging the firearm). Regarding real-life examples, I would note the following web page (on a website of mine, by the way): https://www.learnaboutguns.com/tag/self-defense-example/ On that page, I’ve written about armed citizens successfully stopping rapists, murders, kidnappers, and just about every other kind of terrible criminal who attacked them. Note that those cases represent just a minuscule fraction of the self defense firearms uses that occur, since in order for a case to make that page, it has to be reported to the police, then make the local newspaper, then appear on Google News (where I find such stories), be compelling enough for me to write about it, and also occur when I have free time and am in the mood to write about it. If you’re interested in reading studies on the effectiveness of armed self defense, and why it is a myth that firearms owners are more likely to shoot a loved one than a criminal, I would suggest the following: “Guns in the Medical Literature – A Failure of Peer Review.” Dr. Suter, Journal of the Medical Association of Georgia. March 1994. “Armed Resistance to Crime: The Prevalence and Nature of Self-Defense with a Gun,” Gary Kleck and Marc Gertz, in The Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology, Northwestern University School of Law, Volume 86, Number 1, Fall, 1995.
To the state the obvious, armed self defense can save the crime victim from their attacker. It can also allow a crime victim to save their loved one from a criminal attack, preventing the emotional harm that would result if a person were to stand by helplessly while a criminal harms their spouse/child/etc. Although I can’t begin to provide numbers, I’m willing to bet that armed self defense has prevented many people from being victimized, and then committing suicide as a result of the emotional distress they felt afterwards.
Finally, even assuming that the presence of firearms really did increase the risk of suicide as you mentioned, I would still support firearms ownership for self defense. That is because I, like the vast majority of the population, am in no danger of killing myself. I love my life, my work, my fiancé, and my pets. Even on the worst day of my life, I am still thankful that I am alive to experience life, including the negative aspects of it, as knowing joy would likely be impossible without sorrow to provide contrast. What I am in (admittedly slight, but never the less real) danger from is attack by criminals. One need only turn on the news to read about criminals breaking into homes, committing armed robbery, etc. While I sincerely hope that I’m never forced to use a firearm in self defense, since harming another human is the last thing I would ever wish to do, I do rest easier knowing that I would not be a defenseless crime victim. A firearms is the best way yet invented by humanity for a crime victim to defend themselves, and I don’t believe it would be just to expect those of us who are non-suicidal to give up that protection to benefit those who are suicidal – especially given the very weak to non-existent correlation between firearms and suicide discussed above.
b. Sporting purposes.
Many people own firearms for sporting purposes, myself included. I’ve never been hunting, but I do go trapshooting (shooting clay disks with a shotgun, which is an Olympic sport I would note). My fiancé recently started trapshooting with me, and she is really enjoying herself. Although we have been very close for the nearly 6 year’s we’ve dated, trapshooting together has drawn us even closer together. When we go trapshooting, we see people from eight years old up to their late eighties. We see parents trapshooting with their children, strengthening the parent-child bond, and ensuring that their children are engaged in a wholesome activity rather than committing crimes and using drugs. We see high school students, who participate in school-sanctioned trapshooting events in Iowa and many other states, again helping to keep those teenagers focused on an extracurricular activity instead of getting themselves into trouble. I could go on, but the point is that there are many sports that involve firearms, and those are great reasons to own a firearm.
c. As a Constitutional Right
Since you are a fellow Attorney at Law, I won’t lay forth the constitutional argument regarding the right of individual citizens to own a firearm, as the Supreme Court did just last summer in D.C. v. Heller. Just as none of us need justify why we exercise our right to free speech or right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure, nor do we need justify our firearms ownership decision.
III. Disparaging Firearms and the Effectiveness of your Lecture
A large part of what motivated me to write you this email was not just my disagreement with your stance on firearms – it was a concern about how disparaging firearms reduces the effectiveness of your lecture. As I mentioned above, I was generally quite impressed with your ability to draw the audience’s interest and clearly discuss the issues at hand. However when you began to speak about firearms, I found myself less able to trust the facts you were presenting, since if (in my humble opinion) you are in error regarding firearms, you may also be in error regarding other matters. Although this doesn’t apply to me (since I’m not a very emotional person to begin with and law school really enhanced my ability to objectively and non-emotionally evaluate arguments), I am confident that some firearms owners will start to tune-out your lecture when you begin advocating against firearms possession. Since at least 1/3 of the people you’re speaking to will, on average, own a firearm, you may be inadvertently causing a great many of your listeners to pay less credence to your message.
I hope this email is taken in the spirit in which it was intended – polite and honest feedback for a fellow Attorney whom I believe is doing a commendable thing by speaking about the problem of suicide. I also ask that you overlook any shortcoming in the prose used in this email, since I rather quickly wrote it after work, and did not have time to do sort of revising that is standard for my work-product. Furthermore, as an Attorney I’m a fan of disclaimers, so please note that this email reflects my views and my views alone; I do not imply any official endorsement on behalf of the United States Government. Finally, do know that I’m more than happy to discuss this matter further, should you have any questions or rebuttals.
Eric [Redacted], J.D.
[Redacted contact information]
The response I received from the suicide-prevention instructor
[In response to my email, I received a rather brief reply thanking me for the email and saying that yes did remember me from the class. The email continued, saying that the anti-gun statements she made were the result of “research that has been conducted by the experts and national institutions/organizations in the suicide prevention and mental health communities,” and offering to forward that research to me.]
I can’t tell from her reply whether she took anything I said to heart. I am encouraged by the fact that my colleagues who took the suicide-prevention class the next day reported that no anti-gun statements were made. However I can’t determine whether this is the result of my email, another person talking with the instructor about guns, or perhaps some totally unrelated decision on her part that had nothing to do with my email. Regardless, I can rest more easily knowing that I’ve done my best to stop anti-gun indoctrination.