The Suicide Angle

One thing that’s really been bothering me lately is all this talk that suicide is driven by gun ownership.  It doesn’t just bother me because the notion that guns cause suicides is absurd, it bothers me because it’s obviously absurd, even to a casual uninterested observer.  Most reasonable people, I’d suspect, would not in the slightest be persuaded that we have to reduce gun ownership levels to reduce suicide.  Suicide is primarily a function of depression, and there are many effective ways of carrying out a desire to kill oneself.  Citizens of Japan kill themselves at a far far higher rate than Americans without needing guns to do so.

So why are the anti-gun folks pushing this so hard?  Are they desperate?  Are they stupid?  I think the answer to the former is a little, and to the latter, no.  I couldn’t figure out why they might be latching on to an argument that’s clearly not going to get any traction in the sphere of public opinion.  But thinking about it last night, it occurred to me.  It’s likely a ploy to develop a new constituency for gun control.

Most of us have interacted with gun control advocates.  The vast majority of the people I’ve come across who have become activists in the issue have been relatives of victims of gun violence.  Hell, even The Brady Campaign’s namesake fits that profile.  So does Bryan Miller.  The gun control movement’s bread and butter is tragedy; it’s what makes anti-gunners, and it’s what keeps their organizations churning.

In the pre-Heller world, various gun control groups were not performing all that well.  In the post-Heller world, it’s going to be even harder.  If you’re a gun control group, and you need to enlarge your base of core supporters, how can you ignore the largest pool of people who have been affected by tragedy involving the gun?  There are far more folks out there who have been affected by suicide of a loved one than have been affected by gun violence, and more importantly, families affected by suicide are often middle class, and have money and time to donate.

But why now?  Well, because Heller offers them an opportunity.  We can’t really deny that where law abiding people have access to guns, some small fraction of people will choose a firearm to commit suicide over other methods.  If the gun bans in Chicago and other major cities are struck down, the gun control movement is virtually guaranteed to be able to point to rising levels of suicide with firearms.  This creates new possibilities for them with gun control schemes, possibly including expanded mental health prohibitions, renewed calls for waiting periods, and various other requirements that could be plausibly linked with suicide prevention.

I had said previously the gun control movement will change post-Heller, and this might be an indication their focus is shifting away from crime control, which we’ve shown doesn’t work, to suicide prevention.  Regardless of how well the message resonates with the public at large, if it allows a larger constituency for gun control, and more money rolling into the coffers of gun control groups, they’d be foolish not to exploit the opportunity.  I think we’re seeing a deliberate shift in rhetoric.  Time will tell how it pans out, but we must be ready to counter it.

12 Responses to “The Suicide Angle”

  1. Turk Turon says:

    The libertarian journalist Cathy Young wrote an article for (of all people!) back in 2000, called, “When Liberals Lie About Guns”. It’s a quick riposte to the usual statistical factoids from Kellermann, Hemenway, etc. and it has a very effective couple of paragraphs on suicide.

    My read on the apparent shift to the suicide issue is marketing analysis. I think the Brady’s realized they were ignoring more than half of their potential “audience”, if you will. The case for guns facilitating suicide is even weaker than for homicide, but people who are grieving the loss of a loved one are not behaving logically, and could be a fertile new source of fundraising, at least the way the Bradys see it.

  2. Phoronus says:

    I think you’re spot on. The family of those who’ve committed suicide are often nearly broken, feeling helpless and really adrift. If the anti-gun group comes along and says ‘Hey, it’s not your fault, it’s not even their fault, it’s the gun’s fault. If we fight against access to guns, no other family will have to go through what you’re going through’, that’s a powerful offer. It’s wrong, and illogical, of course, but people in the depths of grief are rarely logical.

  3. RedneckInNY says:

    My aunt hung herself when I was 4, so for the longest time, my mom banned jump ropes from our home.

    My brother was killed by a gun-wielding scum-sucking mutant waste of human flesh, when I was 13. I swore I’d never let myself be a victim. I’m guess I’m the exception to the rule.

  4. It doesn’t just bother me because the notion that suicides cause guns is absurd . . .

    Is that how you intended to word that?

  5. My father killed himself with a handgun. It was his fault, or maybe I should say the PTSS, not the gun’s.

  6. Joe Huffman says:

    There was a fairly well done study a few years ago that showed a slight positive correlation between successful suicides and gun ownership rates. It’s the only thing they have any hope of hanging their hats on.

    Brady has this on their web site in regards to suicide. I think it has been there for quite a while.

    The VPC has been pushing the suicide angle for some time too. I couldn’t find exactly what I was looking for but this is part of what seems to be a shift away from “crime prevention”.

  7. Sebastian says:

    I would imagine they’ve been thinking about this since Parker won at the circuit court level, with plants to have a full tilt media campaign on suicide in the wake of Heller. My prediction is this gamble won’t work, but we’ll see. My experience with people who have had family members kill themselves is that it’s not talked about. When I was growing up, my neighbor’s son offed himself. He was experiencing the early stages of mental illness, and didn’t want to live like that. He took his father’s shotgun, and blew a crater in his chest with it. There was some talk (none of it focusing on controlling guns) about it, but it was something that very quickly was just brushed under the rug and not talked about.

    Crime is something people are comfortable talking about publicly. Not so much suicide. I think that’s why they probably won’t get much traction with this. But I could be wrong.

  8. Joe Huffman says:

    My great uncle used a gun to kill himself. I don’t recall anyone who thought gun ownership was a factor. It was all about his health problems and untreated depression.

    My hypothesis on the positive correlation between gun ownership and suicide is that it has to do with an attitude of self determination common to both rather than one of causation.

  9. Boyd says:

    Just thinking out loud, so to speak, I wonder if a comparison of the number of legally owned guns in the US to the number of gun suicides per year would eviscerate the argument?

  10. Brian in NJ says:

    I think the way to discredit the anti gunners who cry suicide, is to show how phoney they actually are with regards to suicide prevention. Donated money should go to actual suicide prevention groups, not a anti gun group. People still will jump off a bridge, take poision, or use rope.

    I don’t it would be too hard to do this.

  11. Big Boy says:

    It’s OK to “control your own body” so long as you kill someone else (your unborn child) but it’s not OK to “control your own body” if you are old, and sick, and ready to go and you kill yourself alone.

    I’m missing the logic here?

    Maybe we need a Supreme Court case.

  12. John Caile says:

    The “suicide prevention” ploy of the anti-gun fanatics is just that – it will have no affect on suicide. Their real agenda is, as always, attacking gun ownership, and this is just one more emotion-laden tactic to do so.

    I did extensive research on suide in the ’80s and ’90s. It is amazingly complex. Rates vary wildly by culture, age, sex, etc. But one thing is clear: suicide is NOT a “spur-of-the-moment” phenomenon. It is the result of a downward spiral of depression. And their is NO causal correlation between suicide and gun ownership.

    True, suicidal people use whatever method is available – why do you think so many people in the San Francisco Bay area kill themselves by jumping off bridges? Because they have lots of bridges. But no sane person would suggest that closing down all the bridges in the Bay Area would reduce suicide. Of course not – they’d just substitute a different method. This has been observed over and over again.

    Bottom line? Heller or not, the “Usual Suspects” are still after your guns.


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