Currently, we are seeing much discussion about increased gun control. This was spurred on by the mass shooting in Orlando. Whenever there is a mass shooting in this country, such as Sandy Hook or Virginia Tech, we see an increased call for gun control measures which are almost always defeated. These mass shootings are, without fail, highly publicized and covered by the media, which is what leads to the increased rhetoric for gun control. When there is a mass shooting, sales of guns usually increase because people believe that owning a gun will protect them from shooters. There always is this backlash to the call for more gun control.
However, while these gun control activists are well-intentioned, they often forget about where the majority of gun deaths are coming from. According to the Pew Research Center, in 2010, 61% of gun deaths in the U.S. were due to suicide, whereas only 35% were due to homicide. In 2010, 19,362 people in the U.S. died from gun suicide. Decreasing the amount of suicides should be as much of a reason for gun control as decreasing the amount of homicides, if not more. Much of gun control legislation is focused on preventing homicides but is ineffective against suicides, such as limiting assault weapons. Legislation that can attack both homicides and suicides can involve improving mental health or preventing people with mental health issues from obtaining guns.
Not only are most gun deaths suicides, but most suicides are through guns. In fact it more than doubles the second most frequent method, suffocation, at 50.9% compared to 24.8%.
One might argue that people will just find other ways to commit suicide. But this argument fails for the same reason it fails against trying to prevent homicides. No one is saying that gun control would get rid of half of all suicides, but on the margins it may make a difference and save lives, especially considering that guns are far and away the most common method of suicide. Having a gun in the house sometimes plants the idea of suicide in the victims mind. We should be trying to make it harder for people with mental health issues to commit suicide, and taking away the primary method of suicide may set up a barrier for some people.
However, the underlying way to prevent both suicides and homicides is mental health and socialization. While we do need gun control, it should be the last line of defense against these acts. But these methods are rarely as discussed as gun control when there is much more we can do on these fronts.
Perhaps the reason people don’t care more about gun suicides is that people are more afraid getting shot in a mass shooting than they are of committing suicide. Most people think that they have total control over whether or not they commit suicide, and so they fear the uncontrollable chance of getting shot by a murderer in comparison. However, the chances of getting caught in a mass shooting are astronomically lower than the chances of knowing someone who commits suicide. We often have no knowledge and no control over people we know contemplating suicide. And just because one doesn’t want to commit suicide today does not mean he or she will never want to do so. Probably most suicide victims did not always want to be.
The fact is that this lack of attention paid to suicide is founded in emotion, not rationality. Mainstream media likes to report mass shootings because they generate views and are shocking, and it’s good that people know about them. But we cannot allow ourselves to ignore the suicides in this country. We shouldn’t only talk about gun control when there is a mass shooting, but we should constantly be trying to solve this issue. These pushes for legislation frequently fail, as we’ve seen most recently with Paul Ryan refusing to put gun control legislation up for a vote. If suicide gun deaths were more well-known, arguments for gun control would be stronger as there would be more potential lives saved. We must also attack the root causes of homicides and suicides, which is a failure in socialization or mental health, and not be overly preoccupied with peripheral preventative measures such as gun control.