What Would a PSA on Gun Suicide Look Like? Cont'd

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Earlier I asked if readers knew of any notable campaigns to raise awareness over the increased rate of suicide among those with access to guns. From a reader at the Kansas Suicide Prevention Resource Center:

We developed and ran a Facebook ad on just that [seen above]. The VA also developed a wonderful video PSA on gun safety and suicide prevention.

That two-minute PSA, however, only briefly touches on suicide. And the following example from another reader also doesn’t focus on suicide, but it’s notable nonetheless:

Growing up in Germany with Kinder surprise eggs (totally one of the best parts of my childhood, and still very appreciated today) and the absence of guns, I felt the need to share the most persuasive campaign against guns, in my humble opinion:

To me, it just illustrates how ridiculous America is when it comes to guns. I have to admit that, when I went to the United States for the first time for a semester abroad, I was so scared of “everyone having a gun” (it is, of course, a stereotype, but a powerful one) that I actually took a shooting class before. It might be a foreigner kind of thing to do, but might also just shows that guns might actually just make things worse. Because honestly, I wouldn’t want to ever meet myself with a gun; I still don’t have a clue.

Another reader takes the discussion in a different direction:

What causes the most problems is depriving suicidal people of a SAFE, RELIABLE way to end their lives. Many are crippled by unreliable methods. Others jump from buildings, sometimes hitting innocent bystanders. Nembutal is a drug that’s ideal for suicide. Why in the hell is it now illegal?! Which arrogant, moralistic assholes made this decision for all of the rest of us?

I am not suicidal, but I have known people with terminal conditions who would have liked to gracefully exit. Instead, they were forced to endure tortuous pain because their doctors could not legally help them.

A previous reader thread on voluntary euthanasia here. Meanwhile, another reader responds to our note from this morning asking, “Could keeping depressed people from guns do more harm than good?”

I think your reader is on to something. Having heard his logic, I’d say providing universal, no-questions-asked gun storage should be the duty of every elected Sheriff in the country. First, it would eliminate firearms from theft. I have a CCH [concealed carry handgun] (bad neighborhood), I live in an apartment, and I’m often away on business. It’s almost impossible to realistically secure a real safe there. My thin, steel gun cabinet will keep the weapons out of the hands of children, but proper gun safes have to be secured to a concrete foundation, or a thief with a hacksaw, crowbar, and hand truck can move it out and bore the lock at his leisure somewhere else.

Not everyone has the capacity to house a 10-gun safe in our new rental economy, so some of the most die-hard 2nd amendment supporters I know would be happy to let the local sheriff store 2/3 of their collection, provided they were able to keep their rifle and carry pistol by their bedside and the process was like the library/bank and not the DMV.

Secondly, people would be able to store their firearms in times of personal crisis. The previous note on suicide was spot on, especially on the unintended consequences of depression in pilots. Giving someone who’s about to go to the hospital and be on, say, highly addictive opiates, the option to check his guns and be assured to get them back when he’s ready is in all our best interests.

Most of all, it would build a culture of trust between local gun owners and law enforcement. I live in Wake County, NC, and it’s always been strange to transplants from up north how cordial the relationship is between our LEOs and gun owners—CCH holders in particular since they’ve been through training, background checks, and fingerprinting.

Wake County’s training range is open to the public, ten dollars a month, and very well staffed and appointed. It’s allowed their Sheriffs to take a leadership role in training the public in safe weapons handling and training, and builds effective, trusting relationships with local gun owners. In this day and age, checking your gun with the police and having full confidence that you’ll get it back would be a huge expression of trust and respect between both parties, and eliminate a zero-sum dynamic between the citizen and officer.

Even if criminals take advantage of this no-questions-asked service, at least the weapon is not on the street and you know who owns it (you need an ID and a fingerprint scan to get it back, serial # on the form). There’s some law to be written here where a warrant to test the weapon is required when in custody.

Plus, charging a nominal fee, say 20 dollars a year, would be a huge revenue booster for departments. Providing services like cleaning and gun-smiting (most departments already have a shop and armorer) would pay for that support staff’s salary and is in keeping with their mandate to serve. And when someone doesn’t renew their annual fee, after six months the weapons are by contract sent to auction or destroyed. Make it a civilian position, the County Armory and Range, if you want to isolate police culture from influencing civilian gun owners or simply unburden them. Everyone wins, pro or anti gun.

Now permit me to go too far, as a Southern Democrat.

These type of solutions should be sought by Democrats, Mr. Sanders in particular. Nothing would diminish the NRA’s efforts to paint every lawman in the country as an agent of the state who would take your rifles if he had the slightest chance like providing wonderful services for the public that build trust without compromising gun owner’s principles. Concealed Carry across 30+ states proves gun owners are willing to accept increased scrutiny of their mental health and criminal records if granted increased provisional liberty at no cost to the public health (they commit 1/100th the crimes of regular citizens, half that of peace officers).

This would be very easy for the senator from Vermont (open/CCH) to capitalize on to secure blue-dog votes in the South and West, and distinguish himself from reactionaries like Bloomberg while maintaining a principled defense on guns in keeping with his record and force Hillary leftward to sing Bloomberg’s tune all the way to Dixie.