And it’s got nothing to do with regulating guns.
Suicide is one of the leading causes of death for men, and it’s also the leading cause of gun deaths. In fact, nearly two-thirds of gun deaths in the United States are suicides. Indeed, 55% of suicides are committed with a gun. Of those suicides, more than four out of five are men.
So remember, all the talk you see about gun control or gun advocacy being about murder or self-defense, about crime or fear of crime, that’s just posturing unconnected to facts. Just like the furor over “assault rifles” has nothing to do with actual homicide statistics, so too does the talk about guns focus entirely on homicide rather than the most common way guns kill people. It makes for a better story that way, plays better on people’s fears and fantasies. But in the real world, most of the time a gun kills someone, it’s a deliberate suicide.
Given that, given the actual facts on the ground in the real world, here’s a simple fix that will cut gun deaths nationwide, drastically and dramatically, without messing with the Second Amendment or anything else.
Make mental health care and antidepressants free.
That’s how you cut gun deaths in half in this country. Make it so nobody has to choose between mental health care and groceries. Make antidepressants accessible at no cost to the user. That’ll still leave a great deal of work to be done on overcoming the stigma and emotional resistance to seeking help, but that’s Step Two. Step One is breaking down the economic barriers.
This is in no way a joke. Suicide is a surprisingly fragile state. Of those who attempt suicide, only a small fraction ever end up killing themselves. Once that awful moment passes, it tends not to recur as badly. Health care and antidepressants work. They’re not infallible, but they work better than nothing at all, which is the primary treatment option too many Americans have available. A total lack of treatment tips the odds toward looking at that gun, that bridge, that razor blade, that rope, and finding the proverbial permanent solution to your temporary problem. And if it’s a gun you’re looking at, it’s going to do an efficient job at providing that permanent solution.
We know that we can’t reduce abortion by banning abortion: that simply doesn’t work. What does work is providing sex education and contraception. This fact is unwelcome to some ideologues, but alas, here in the real world data trumps ideology.
On the same level, if you want to reduce gun deaths, if you want to save lives, stop talking about scary muggers or cute-kid victims. Stop talking about assault weapons or concealed carry permits. Stop talking about magazine restrictions and for the love of all that is holy shut up about the Second Amendment.
The single largest piece of this problem is the easiest to get at, and it has nothing to do with any of those things. It is a health care problem, and acting as though it isn’t is flatly dishonest.
So until I hear either pro-gun or anti-gun forces talking about suicide prevention, about pills and counselors, about the vast number of men and women who can be helped by systems we already need, it’s going to be a lot harder for me to believe they’re serious about preventing deaths. It feels a little too much like campaigning against automobile deaths without ever mentioning seat belts.