Yesterday, I read with interest and a little concern the big headline story about the study that suggests that soldiers at high risk for suicide can be identified through a mathematical model. It sounded a little “Minority Report” to me, like that Tom Cruise movie that in which individuals are arrested before they actually commit a crime based on reports by “pre-cognitives.” What would it take to predict who might kill himself and who might not?
Reading further into the study, I uncovered a few of the criteria that point to an increased likelihood of committing suicide. And, lo and behold, wouldn’t you know it? Access to a firearm was among them. Just how much does having access to a gun increase your risk? I went digging further. A meta-analysis of 15 investigations into the issue, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, uncovered that a man who has access to a firearm is 4 times more likely to kill himself. (A woman who has access to a gun is 3 times more likely to be a homicide victim than one who does not).
We might have more data about this, but for the fact that the NRA successfully lobbied Congress to block funding for gun-related studies by the Centers for Disease Control. This was in the wake of a 1993 article in the New England Journal of Medicine, funded by the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention, which found a strong correlation between keeping a gun in the home and an increased risk of homicide committed by a family member or close acquaintance with said gun. Rather than protect homeowners, as gun advocates claim, the presence of a gun in the home actually significantly increases the risk of death by gun. But you won’t be reading any recent research on the subject. As Mark Rosenberg, former director of the CDC’s National Center for Injury Control and Prevention has said, “the scientific community has been terrorized by the NRA,” and funding for gun control research has effectively dried up, reduced to less than $100,000 of the CDC’s $5.6 billion budget.
The man who originally sponsored the 1996 bill eliminating this funding, Rep. Jay Dickey (R-Ark.), has since reversed his position. In an op-ed in the Washington Post, co-authored with Rosenberg, he stated, “We were on opposite sides of the heated battle 16 years ago, but we are in strong agreement now that scientific research should be conducted into preventing firearm injuries.” The change of heart of one man may not mean much in the grand scheme of things. But I hope it points to a possible glimmer that some sanity might be infused into this debate before more blood is shed.
It’s said that you can’t unring a bell. Guns are here to stay, gun advocates say. But statistics show that gun ownership is down sharply from the 1970s and that the rise in gun sales are mostly limited to current gun owners. In other words, the share of households with guns is down, but the number of guns that existing gun owners have is going up. So we are shaping opinion except in one aging, white demographic. (Fascinating aside: one reason for the decline in the percentage of homes with guns in them is the fact that woman-headed households [with no adult male present] has increased greatly since the 1970s. And households headed by women are far less likely to have a gun in them. Go, feminism).
Guns are machines with only one objective: to kill. Unlike a candlestick someone might pick up and use to hurt you with in your home (but which will most likely spend its life being a holder for a candle), a gun has no other use but to kill and to practice to aim better for killing. Even owning a gun for “self defense” is being prepared to kill or disable. Guns increase the likelihood that you’ll be murdered in your own home and they are a deadly thing to keep around should you or anyone you love and live with find themselves depressed and facing mental health issues or serious illness. The studies are in. Let’s reduce the scourge of guns in the home.