- Posted April 4, 2013 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
First Person: Your essays
A Mother's Journey to Bearing Grief
Read the full story of Paugh's journey here.
- zdan, CNN iReport producer
Like Tracy Scarpulla, “A mother’s journey to bearing arms”, I am a mother of three and my views on guns have evolved significantly over the course of my lifetime. My husband hunts and believes strongly in his right to bear arms. But when my 25-year- old middle son Peter shot himself in a moment of despair last April, I came full circle to the harsh reality that there are almost twice as many suicides as murders by firearm across America, roughly 19,000 of the 30,000 gun deaths each year. Yet we disproportionately fear and almost exclusively talk of criminals in this national gun debate.
My introduction to guns came on a hot summer day in 1963 when my father, 53 sent us all out of the house to have an afternoon of fun at a swimming pool in Aberdeen, Maryland. He called police, wrote “I’m sorry” on a scrap of paper and shot himself in our basement. He had recently lost his job. Not knowing how he would support his family, he had calculated how much his life insurance policies would pay upon his death. It was enough for my mother to raise the five of us, who were between the ages of five and fifteen at the time. I vividly recall the carefree joy of that day in the sun shattered by numbness, confusion, shock, grief and shame. The world felt much less safe from that day on.
Fifteen years later as a U.S. Naval officer, I qualified as a marksman on an M-16 rifle, felt the kick of firing a .45 caliber handgun and visited the pistol range many times to shoot a friend’s .38 revolver. So I was not afraid of guns, and while living alone kept a small one with hollow point bullets --they expand upon impact to maximize injury-- for a few years. I never had occasion to use it.
When my sons were still small, I got rid of my handgun because I was more afraid for them than for myself. I recalled my coworker’s experience. Her son’s friend was accidentally shot in her garage when another youngster brought a gun over, unbeknownst to any adults.
All three of my smart, athletic sons grew up to graduate from college and find good-paying jobs. In the summer of 2011, my middle son bought a house just outside of Baltimore, Maryland with his girlfriend of five years. As he often did, Peter followed his older brother’s lead -- buying a handgun for protection and target shooting. He developed a fascination with weapons and bought a rifle and a sword too, all "tools" designed to kill.
When Peter proudly showed me his new handgun, I spoke to him about my father‘s suicide by gun almost 50 years earlier—the pain and sorrow it caused and the fear for him it now raised in me. I advised him that numerous, reliable research studies showed that his gun was many times more likely to be used against a member of his own household than on anyone else. He expressed surprise at this information. Having said my piece, I dismissed my fears, satisfied that “forewarned is forearmed.”
Ten months later, I knew Peter was not particularly happy with his job, but no one close to him ever imagined he was so despondent that he would call in sick to work one Friday, write me and his girlfriend notes of love and apology, walk to the woods, call police, and shoot himself in the head. He left his drivers’ license with its red heart for organ donation next to him. Dozens of people received his last gifts.
Determined to spare as many as possible this horrific experience, I have studied much of the research related to suicide and firearms. It’s a myth that without a gun handy, people bent on killing themselves will just find another way. For many, the suicidal crisis is temporary, and 90% of those who survive an attempt do not go on to die by suicide. Any obstacle or delay can break the self-destructive trance. Mental health treatment has not made a dent in suicide statistics within the past 25 years, but reducing access to the most lethal methods drastically lowers overall suicide and murder rates. http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/means-matter/means-matter/
Females attempt suicide three times more often than males, but because most use much less lethal means, four of five suicide deaths are males. Guns stand far above all other means by virtue of their extreme lethality. Very few survive a self-inflicted gunshot wound to get a second chance at life.
This article sheds light on the differing realities of gun deaths by race:
“A white person is five times as likely to commit suicide with a gun as to be shot with a gun; for each African American who uses a gun to commit suicide, five are killed by other people with guns.” http://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/feature/wp/2013/03/22/gun-deaths-shaped-by-race-in-america/
Protecting your family more often than not means losing or locking up your guns. Having a gun in your home at least doubles the risk of suicide for all who live there. Gun safes, trigger locks and separate ammo storage can reduce, but not eliminate that increased risk. Adolescents are full of angst, mood swings and drama, so think twice about giving them, or any troubled family member, unsupervised access to deadly weapons, no matter how much safety training they’ve had. http://www.bridgerail.org/lives-can-be-saved/what-science-tells-us
Many of us face moments of overwhelming despair, whether mentally ill or not. The vast majority of us get past these dark thoughts and learn to cope with the trials of life. Though guns lack intent, they are suggestive of death. The mere presence of this most lethal tool actually influences the suicidal person’s decision by making death too easy, quick and certain.
Our love affair with guns in this country needs to be tempered with a healthy dose of respect for all the dangers of ownership. I support the right of individuals to make informed decisions about whether and how to keep a gun in their house. Congress needs to restore funding to the Centers for Disease Control for firearm injury prevention research. Our children’s lives, especially our sons’, may very well depend on it. http://www.suicidology.org/c/document_library/get_file?folderId=231&name=DLFE-647.pdf