On Guns

On the intake paperwork that I ask new clients to fill out, in addition to “name”, “insurance”,”next of kin”,there is one final question: “Do you keep a firearm in the home?” I admit that the question can sound a little paranoid here in New England, where everybody hunts.There is game bird season, deer season, bear season,fur bearer season and even rabbit and squirrel season. Every town around has a gun range, and near every town forest you can hear the “boom” of exploding ammo. In fact, in Massachusetts, with a Class “A” License to Carry, you can even tote around your very own concealed weapon. Just in case.

Just in case what? Just in case you are attacked on the streets of Concord by a deranged escapee from the prison? Just in case you’re walking home alone to your dorm at 3am? Just in case you have to shoot out the windows of a burning building to save the people inside?

Judging from the way firearms–usually shotguns– have been used here in my middle class suburb of Boston,  it’s rarely self-defense or heroism that causes a firearm to be discharged. If it’s not hunting or target-shooting, the actual use of these weapons is for suicide and homicide. Take the upscale town of Westford, MA (pop.22,600) for example: In 2010 alone, there were two firearms suicides and two murder-suicides by gun. In January 2010, Fred  LeDuc shot and killed his wife and injured himself, leaving their children essentially orphaned. Just one month later, Brian Marchand shot and killed his 17 year-daughter Olivia, shot and critically injured his wife and then killed himself. The effects of these violent events continue to ripple through the community. One of the suicides in that year was that of a young man suffering from depression who had been asked to take a medical leave from college. Another was a man in his early 40s who was going through a divorce.

In all of these cases, the shooters were going through dark times, plagued by financial stressors or by a sense of failure or a sense of loss. But would these stories have been different if the shooter hadn’t had a gun handy?

Decidely, so. Take a look at the difference in suicide rates in the 6 states with the highest concentration of weapons versus the 6 states with the lowest concentration of weapons:

High-Gun States        Low-Gun States

Population                                  39 million                   40 million

Household Gun Ownership                  47%                           15%

Firearm Suicide                           9,749                          2,606

Non-Firearm Suicide                     5,060                          5,446

Total Suicide                             14,809                          8,052

In the high gun ownership states, firearms suicides are almost 4 times more frequent than in low gun ownership states. Yet suicides by other means are almost exactly equal. What we can see from these statistics is that where there are lots of guns, there are more deaths by suicide. The lower overall suicide rates in low gun ownership states suggests that an absence of guns in the home allows people to get through moments of despair or passion without violence.

So many good people–teenagers, fathers, daughters– have died unnecessarily because during a few hours of despair or anger, there was a firearm within reach.

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