Yes, Breitbart, 33,000 People ARE Killed with Guns Each Year

by

J.C. Schildbach, LMHC

There is absolutely nothing controversial about Hillary Clinton’s claim that, in the United States, “We have 33,000 people a year who die from guns”–except maybe to those who don’t understand how words and numbers work.

Yet, AWR Hawkins, breitbart.com’s “Second Amendment Columnist,” posted a “Fact-Check” column, titled “No, 33,000 Not Killed with Guns Each Year” following the third presidential debate, claiming that Clinton deliberately inflated the CDC numbers of firearm deaths by adding in suicides. This is not the first time Hawkins has posted similar complaints.

What Hawkins fails to do is explain how suicides by firearm somehow fall outside of the “33,000 people a year who die from guns.” Certainly, Hawkins must understand that somebody who uses a gun to kill him/herself is dead, and did use a gun in order to die—making that person someone who ‘died from a gun.’

Using Hawkins’ preferred language of people “killed with guns each year” still doesn’t change anything. A person who commits suicide with a firearm still was, in fact, killed with a gun.

suicide-gun-mouth

Hawkins also strikes out by putting the phrase “gun violence” in quotation marks, saying that the use of that phrase (which Clinton did not use in the quote he complains about) somehow plays into Clinton’s strategy of fooling the public. But, again, killing oneself with a firearm does qualify as “gun violence”–first of all, because it involves an act of violence; and secondly, because it involves a gun. Or you can reverse that so the gun is first and the violence is second—still doesn’t change anything.

I don’t want to get into speculation about things that Clinton didn’t say, but perhaps if she had used the phrase “gun crimes” or had referred to murders using guns, then Hawkins would have a better argument. But Clinton didn’t. So Hawkins doesn’t.

And, in case you’re wondering, the 33,000 figure is dead-on. Here’s a chart, showing the CDC numbers of gun deaths for the years 2010 to 2014 (2014 being the most recent year statistics are available) clearly showing that gun deaths have reached well above 33,000 per year for 2012, 2013, and 2014, and averaged 32,964 per year for the five-year period.

avg-gun-deaths-2010-to-2014

A handy chart of CDC statistics on gun deaths, lifted from Everytown for Gun Safety at  https://everytownresearch.org/gun-violence-by-the-numbers/

Now, I get that gun-loving Americans, including the Breitbart crowd, don’t like to believe anything negative about guns. They also don’t like to believe that they may, at some point, end up so distraught, or so deep in the throes of mental illness, that they might use their guns on themselves, and/or their family members or other loved ones—or perhaps even neighbors or random strangers.

By pushing the suicide statistics aside, or pretending they ‘don’t count’, Hawkins ignores a harsh reality here: that people who own guns tend to kill themselves with those guns far more than they kill an intruder in their home, or otherwise defend themselves from the big, bad, scary world out there. People who own guns kill themselves with those guns more often than criminals use guns to kill innocent citizens; and more frequently than ‘gang violence’ leads to gun deaths.

There is also considerable overlap in the “murder/suicide” category—where gun owners kill their significant others, family members, co-workers, or random strangers, prior to turning their guns on themselves. And because guns are such a quick and effective killing tool, the decision to use them in an act of violence on loved ones or oneself is often impulsive—a few too many bad days in a row, a bad argument following a few too many beers, or even a partner deciding they want out of a relationship, and the gun comes out as the ultimate way to put a stop to whatever is so aggravating.

As for mental illness, Hawkins’ argument becomes even less convincing in the face of all the clamoring about how we don’t have a gun problem in the U.S., but we have a mental health problem. Of course, people who make such an argument are usually talking about the mental health issues of mass shooters. Yet, if we (properly) view suicide as a mental health issue, then the numbers of firearm suicides become that much more disturbing. Gun owners kill themselves at a rate roughly twice as high as the rate of gun murders. That’s a vast mental health issue that’s not being addressed, and that is being exacerbated by guns.

Yes, I know that many of the people who want to argue in favor of guns like to point out that people who commit suicide will find the means to do so, even if you take their guns away–an argument which is demonstrably false in terms of overall lethality. There are many ways to map out the evidence showing this falsehood, including the high rate of suicide by firearm–roughly 50% of all suicides in the U.S. are completed using guns. Another way to conceptualize the difference in suicide methods is to compare suicide completion rates using firearms relative to suicide completion rates using other methods. For instance, plenty more people survive suicide attempts by overdosing on pills than survive suicide attempts using guns.

Those who are willing to brush off the connection between firearms and suicide also sometimes argue that suicide is a matter of personal freedom—of being allowed to end one’s life when one chooses. I will say that I’m not completely opposed to people being able to end their own lives on terms they choose. However, I’ve learned enough to know that people are least equipped to make that decision quickly, impulsively, or while in a deep depression (among many other factors). Very few people attempt suicide while they are thinking in the clearest of terms, or making a rational decision based on a comprehensive review of the facts.

Depression and many other forms of mental illness are notorious for their association with cognitive distortions, aka, “thinking errors”—misinterpreting the world around one, the impact one’s actions have on others, and the view other people have of one (again, among many other factors). As I’ve pointed out before, the idea that a gun keeps one safe is, itself, a cognitive distortion. The suicide-by-firearm statistics make that clear.

There is also, perhaps, a great irony here, in that Hawkins believes he is advocating for gun ownership, when the “mental health” approach to suicide prevention involves removing the means for suicide. That is, safety planning for suicide prevention involves taking away those means most likely to be used in a suicide attempt, while the person at risk for suicide gets treatment.

So, how do we address the mental health problems associated with guns and suicide? Take the guns away, at least until the person moves beyond risk for suicide. Of course, mental health treatment is not predictive. Risk factors can be weighed, and support systems assessed, but given the ease with which a person can use a gun to end her/his own life, a dip back into depression, a few more bad days, a drift away from regular engagement with one’s (positive) coping skills, and the risk can escalate once again.

Hawkins thinks he is supporting gun rights by poo-pooing the statistics on firearm deaths in the United States. But what he is actually doing is pointing out that suicide is twice as big a problem, where guns are concerned, as murder is. His solution is to pretend the people who commit suicide with guns aren’t really people who “die from guns.”

At base, he is arguing that people who commit suicide with guns aren’t really people…or perhaps aren’t really people who deserve the support to go on living.

 

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Not Oriented to Day/Date

by Jonathan C. Schildbach, MA, LMHC, ASOTP

In any good vacation, there comes a point where the day and date are completely lost to one’s immediate recall.

I’m not talking about the “I keep thinking it’s Thursday, but it’s only Wednesday,” kind of thing that happens anytime there’s a holiday or some other minor shift in one’s schedule…or that just happens from time to time for no apparent reason. I’m talking about hitting that point where you make the definitive claim, “It is Thursday,” when it is only Wednesday.

On my latest vacation, this happened Saturday night, or, rather, Sunday morning, when, with the wind outside too severe to build a fire and sit out under the stars, I had flopped out in the living room of the rental beach house with my (adult) niece and nephew, to knock back a few, b.s., and flip channels as we half-watched TV. I suggested they could tune in “Saturday Night Live,” then quickly retracted my suggestion, believing I was righting myself by saying it was only Friday night.

My nephew said drily, “Uh, no…it’s Saturday.”

“It’s actually Sunday,” my niece further corrected. Sure enough, we were all of two minutes into Sunday…assuming it really was Sunday.

Since my niece, in charge of the remote at the time, did nothing to confirm that it really was Saturday (like switching the channel to NBC so I could see that a “Saturday Night Live” rerun was really on), and the on-screen programming guide—still up in the realm of NatGeo’s “Drugs, Inc.”—showed the time, but not the day or date, I had to puzzle through the events of the day, and previous days, to try to gain some kind of bearing.

That most patriotic of birds, a seagull, drifts above an American flag, bent in the wind, signaling that all is well…whatever day it is.

That most patriotic of birds, a seagull, drifts above an American flag, bent in the wind, signaling that all is well…whatever day it is.

It should have been obvious enough, as some cousins had stopped by the beach house earlier in the day, and I was well aware that they were expected on Saturday. But that little item escaped my scan of the day’s happenings. Instead, my mind floundered through things like what I had eaten earlier in the day, and what, if anything, occurred while I was out beach-walking. Finding nothing specific enough to give me the proper cues to place myself along a timeline, I counted from the days I left home—leaving me with the conclusion that it absolutely could not have been Friday night/Saturday morning.

Such occurrences give me pause when thinking that people are routinely asked what day/date it is during mental health assessments, say, at a hospital ER or an agency intake appointment, since I realize how easy it is to be thrown off once one is not tied to a schedule. (I get that asking the question is useful for a number of things, like head injuries and anything else likely to disengage somebody from reality and/or memory). But still, a few days of being away from all the appointments, shifts, and events that I am normally tracking, away from the pressure to be anywhere in particular at any time in particular, and I start to lose my grip on just what day it is.  And that can be a very healthy thing.

For the purposes of measuring the usefulness of the question about the day/date, just imagine a person on disability with few regularly scheduled places to be…or someone in assisted living who has other people attending to the details of his schedule…perhaps somebody who has been retired or unemployed for an extended period of time…an individual who has made a serious attempt to kill herself by overdose, still in a haze of medication or illicit street drugs.

Okay, that got a little dark. But there are plenty of reasons someone could become distanced from knowing the day and/or date.

If it weren’t something of a lifelong trait, I might say that my knowledge of such assessment questions informs my tendency, once I get to the point of losing my sense of time, to tilt back into the land of the worried, and start to obsess over how many days of vacation are left, and what still has to be accomplished or avoided between now and the end of the getaway. I soon find myself mentally checking the date in my head several times a day. I pester myself out of living in the now, of enjoying the blissful forgetfulness that can, and really should, tag along on vacation when you’re not required to remember much of anything except maybe how to get back to a rental in a town you’re not familiar with—which I suppose would come under ‘orientation to place and situation.’

Such worrying and failures to maintain forgetfulness are, of course, detrimental to properly sinking into a vacation—to fully resting and restoring oneself. It’s not like the others with you on vacation, or the property owners, are going to let you forget, when the time comes, that you have to leave. Of course, I suppose there’s always the possibility that you own the place where you’re vacationing, you have nowhere else to be, and you have the option of staying as long as you want. I am not yet burdened with such problems involving the absence of obligation or other relevant forms of boundlessness…perhaps one day.

Maybe it’s good to lose that day/date orientation from time to time. Such orientation necessarily serves us when we have to be somewhere or doing something at a specific time—which seems to be an increasing portion of our lives in all of our overbooked-, overscheduled-, overworked-edness, where we are constantly prodded into mild anxiety at the need to know what’s coming next.

But goal-oriented vacations are no vacations at all…at least not for me. Some people like to have vacation plans—places to be, things to see. I most enjoy vacations that involve finding a comfortable place with a nice view, then settling in for plenty of good eats, good drinks, good company, good reading…and whatever else comes about as I occasionally wander from that temporary home base.

With the array of wonderful family and friends who join us, or invite us along on vacations (as in this case), our meals, excursions, and any other interactions become occasions for a great deal of laughter.

And I laughed a lot on this most recent vacation…including the small bit of laughter when, as we pulled away from a roadside coffee drive-through on our way home, my wife asked if it was Monday or Tuesday, then ticked off a quick inventory of items trying to orient herself to the appropriate day and date.