We Must Address Gun Suicides To Stop Gun Violence

09/17/2016 11:43 am ET Updated Sep 19, 2016
Berggren, Hans via Getty Images

There is not a day that passes without missing my daughter Angela. When Angela’s depression did not overwhelm her, she was a loving mom to her three young children. But she bought a gun in May 2011 and two months later she used it to kill herself.

Well-intentioned friends have tried to tell me that if Angela hadn’t had a gun, she would have found another way to end her life. But I know better. The truth is that the United States does not have a higher rate of mental illness than other developed nations. In fact, our overall suicide rate is 17 percent lower here than in other high-income nations. Our rate of suicide with a firearm, however, is eight times higher. And according to CDC data, that number has been steadily increasing over the last two decades.

Gun suicides account for two-thirds of gun deaths in the United States. But for too long, discussion of suicide has been stigmatized and kept separate from conversations about preventing gun violence. The argument has long been that suicide is a mental health issue – not an issue of gun safety. But the facts tell a different story.

Research shows that most people who attempt suicide will not try again. But nine out of ten people who attempt suicide with a gun die immediately and do not get that second chance.

If I close my eyes I can still see Angela, cheerfully picking berries in our backyard and drawing chalk flowers in the driveway with her kids. Her children are trying so hard to remember the sound of her voice, but it gets more difficult every year.

I am so sorry that Angela will never have the chance to watch her children grow up. I am so sorry her children will always miss their mom. 

More than 90 Americans are killed every day by gun violence, and even though most of those gun deaths are suicides, loved ones of those who have died by suicide have often remained quiet and out of the public eye.

There’s no one law that can stop all gun deaths, but there are steps we can take and must consider to prevent gun violence.

It’s never easy to discuss the death of someone you love, and when that person chose to die, it can sometimes feel that much more difficult. After the shock of what happened wore off, I was angry at Angela – for leaving her children and for losing faith that she could get better. I felt shame too – wondering if there’s more I could have done to help her or if I could have stopped her somehow.

I want other families who have experienced a suicide to know that while shame and anger will always play a role, they cannot overpower your desire to speak out to prevent future gun deaths.

There’s no one law that can stop all gun deaths, but there are steps we can take and must consider to prevent gun violence. States that require a background check on all handgun sales have about half the gun suicides of other states. Keeping guns locked up and out of young hands can save lives too – often it’s a gun found in a home that turns into a suicidal person’s method of choice. 

As part of the Everytown Survivor Network, I use my voice to talk about sensible gun laws and the steps we can take to save lives. I don’t want any other family to be part of the club that no one wants to join – the loved ones of gun violence victims. I encourage you to use your voice too – we can prevent gun deaths, and it’ll take changing our laws and culture.

Diane Sellgren is a member of the Everytown Survivor Network and a resident of Minneapolis, Minnesota.

If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.

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