February 15, 2013
Guns, Suicide, and the New York TimesBy J. Robert Smith
You want to reduce the number of suicides annually in the United States, ban guns. Or so intimates the New York Times. In an article titled: "To Reduce Suicide Rates, New Focus Turns to Guns," the Times provides human interest stories and stats to bolster the argument that taking guns out of the equation, suicides will drop.
Writes NYT reporter Sabrina Tavernise:
The gun debate has focused on mass shootings and assault weapons since the schoolhouse massacre in Newtown, Conn., but far more Americans die by turning guns on themselves. Nearly 20,000 of the 30,000 deaths from guns in the United States in 2010 were suicides, according to the most recent figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The national suicide rate has climbed by 12 percent since 2003, and suicide is the third-leading cause of death for teenagers.
Of course, Tavernise's report begs the questions: Why has the national suicide rate climbed by 12 percent since 2003? And why is suicide the third-leading cause of death for the nation's teens? Why do so many Americans choose to commit suicide, and why are the numbers on the rise? Why do teenagers, who have their whole lives ahead of them, opt to kill themselves?
Typical of the liberal media is the focus on symptoms rather than causes. The Times would be better off expending ink plumbing the depths of modern American society and culture. What are the factors driving more people to kill themselves? Is there something sick in the culture? Have too many Americans become unmoored from basic values and virtues -- from family and faith, for instance?
There is no disputing that guns play a role in a portion of suicides, attempted and successful, each year in the United States. But the Times' assertion that taking guns out of the mix would lead to a precipitous drop in suicides is dubious. According to the Times, reducing access to guns "works in other countries," though no citations are provided. But the Times does turn to Israel as an example where less access to guns has dropped suicide rates.
Again from Tavernise's report:
Reducing access to lethal means has worked in other countries. An intervention in Israel preventing soldiers from taking their guns home on weekend leave, a time when many soldiers' suicides occurred, helped reduce the suicide rate among them by 40 percent.
Needless to say, Israel is different culturally than the United States; it's smaller geographically and more homogenous. Israel is also besieged on all sides by hostile Arab neighbors. Israeli soldiers are under regular duress. It's spurious for the Times to cite soldiers under duress having a propensity to suicide to civilian suicides in the United States.
Still more from the Times:
"The literature suggests that having a gun in your home to protect your family is like bringing a time bomb into your house," said Dr. Mark Rosenberg, an epidemiologist who helped establish the C.D.C.'s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. "Instead of protecting you, it's more likely to blow up."
First, Dr. Rosenberg should get his nose out of books and step out into life. How is bringing a gun into one's home like bringing in a "ticking time bomb?"
Per GunPolicy.org, privately owned firearms in the United States are estimated at 270 million. Not all those guns are in homes, but tens of millions are. So accepting that there were 20,000 gun-related suicides in 2010, then a mere fraction of a percent (0.000741, if my calculation is correct) of private guns are involved in suicides. That's hardly the "ticking time bomb" that Dr. Rosenberg asserts.
Yet more from Tavernise:
Still, some dispute the link, saying that it does not prove cause and effect, and that other factors, like alcoholism and drug abuse, may be driving the association [to suicide]. Gary Kleck, a professor of criminology at Florida State University in Tallahassee, contends that gun owners may have qualities that make them more susceptible to suicide. They may be more likely to see the world as a hostile place, or to blame themselves when things go wrong, a dark side of self-reliance.
Professor Kleck is long on speculation (or, at least, as reported by Tavernise). Kleck paints with a broad brush. Millions of gun owners are sportsmen. Overwhelmingly, those millions who own guns for self-defense aren't peeking from behind their living room curtains, shotguns or handguns at the ready, waiting for some kid in a hoodie to step onto their lawns. As to the gun suicides blaming "themselves when things go wrong," well, self-blame is most likely a root cause in many suicides -- self-blame or self-pity.
What say you, professor, about non-gun-related suicides -- just thrill seekers? And if there's a "dark side" to self-reliance (a slap at gun owners' individualism, no doubt), there's no dark side to dependence? One would think that powerlessness and dependency are key factors in driving a person to suicide. Empowered people rarely kill themselves -- isn't that fair to say?
Finally, this bit of shaky reasoning in response to the argument that if guns are taken away wouldn't people find other ways to kill themselves:
"Yes, many may find another method," said Catherine Barber, director of the Harvard center's Means Matter public health education campaign, "but will it kill them?"
Citing statistics from emergency rooms and death certificates, she said, "Nearly everything they substitute will have lower odds of killing them, sometimes dramatically so."
Anyone driven or desperate enough to kill himself can concoct a plethora of means for snuffing out his life. Say, stepping onto a busy road or highway. Deer and dogs can testify to the lethality of a semi bearing down on one of their own at 70 mph. Or leaping from a not-so-tall building or bridge. Or jumping on train tracks as the sound of a train whistle grows louder. Or hanging oneself -- a time-tested method of suicide. Or opening up one's veins in a tub of hot water (a favorite of ancient Romans). On and on...
We're not likely to read a front-page story in the New York Times about how guns save people's lives. Here's one such story. Just Google "How a gun saved my life." There are many stories of guns saving innocent lives.
But none worth featuring at the New York Times.
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