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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were 39,518 suicides in the United States in 2011 (the year for which there are the most recent data). That’s just the reported/confirmed suicides. I’ll write about that a little bit more later. Of those suicides in 2011, 19,990 were by firearm. That’s half of suicides.
Those 19,990 suicides by firearm are more than the number of murders (of all types) in the US in 2011. How many more? Over 5,000 more.
When the National Rifle Association (NRA) goes after the nominee for Surgeon General because he dares say/opine/think that guns are a public health problem, you have to think about it for a second. Are guns a public health problem?
“If there were no guns, people would find other ways to kill themselves.”
Well, yeah, people hellbent on killing themselves to end their own suffering will try other things if guns are not available. But here’s the thing… Guns allow for impulsive and almost 100% fatal suicide attempts. You put the barrel to your head, pull the trigger, and that’s it. There’s no chance to back out, no chance to get saved by trauma/emergency medicine. And, if you do get saved, you’re likely to not be the same ever again.
Believe me, I’ve seen it first hand.
Furthermore, when there are more suicides total, and more suicides by gun in particular, than murders, it’s a problem. That’s reality. We’re not talking about a “what if” scenario. It’s a problem.
If I were to make a video and threaten the lives of that many Americans, there would be people coming after me… Likely law enforcement and the armed forces. Yet we do very little to prevent those 19,000+ suicides. Then, when the person tapped to be the person to set the tone of public health in this country mentions it, politicians on both sides of the aisle lose their collective minds at the snap of the fingers of one Wayne LaPierre.
“Then let’s create a database to keep track of all people with mental health to keep them from getting a gun!”
Well, that’s really not going to work because, as the NRA is quick to point out, gun laws don’t work when there is quick and easy access to guns in grey and black markets. So how do we keep guns away from people who may commit suicide? By addressing their mental health problems so that they don’t go looking for guns — or use the guns they already own — to kill themselves. So guess what? Mental health is public health. And who but the Surgeon General to try and address this?
One of the things that people whose testicles seem to be in the firm grip of the NRA seem to ignore is reality. That reality — beside the fact that the nominee for Surgeon General is a physician — is that mental health problems are the overwhelming biggest reason for suicide attempts in this country. If we address those mental health problems through proven public health interventions, then we bring down the number of deaths from suicide. To do that — and I know this will come as a shock to some of you — HEALTHCARE PROVIDERS NEED TO ASK IF THE POTENTIALLY SUICIDAL PERSON HAS A GODDAMNED GUN IN THE HOUSE.
If you don’t realize that, then you have checked out of reality, just like I think Mr. LaPierre has. Then again, physicians may not want to do away with guns. After all, the free and open access to guns in our society pays their bills. I mean, the same statistics we have tell us that there are tens of thousands of injuries from guns. Those injuries need to be treated by physicians. That’s a lot of money for them in our fee-for-service healthcare system, right?
Speaking of stats. I mentioned up there that those numbers are just the ones that are reported and confirmed. While some of those may not be true suicides, like those that are accidents but seem like suicides, I am willing to bet good money that there are many more that are suicides but are not reported as such. Our culture is one that is ashamed and embarrassed that a person in our family or in our town may have committed suicide. So those get covered-up. Our gun culture also has people committing “suicide by cop” that is not counted as a suicide but as a homicide. And then there are the people who walk into the woods and take their lives and are never seen or heard from again. So, yeah, take that number with a grain of salt, knowing that it is based on the best estimates of the true number and that the true number might be substantially higher.
Suicide is a difficult thing to talk about because it is very taboo in the American culture and in all the subcultures within our country. Yet suicide — along with any and all forms of mental health issues — needs to be a discussion that we need to have. We need to save those 39,000+ people each year, otherwise our society is worthless. Otherwise, life is worthless. That conversation needs to be had out loud and in all segments of our society, and the current nominee for Surgeon General wanted to get that conversation going. Did we listen? No. Instead of listening to a public health expert, we listened to the NRA, to the “2nd Amendment Remedies” buffoons, and to the “Open Carry” clowns… We listened to people who are divorced from reality.
I said it the other night about our response to Ebola: My children, or my children’s children will have to apologize for the mistakes of this generation when it came to Ebola, just like I am now apologizing for the previous generation’s response to AIDS. It is embarrassing to me that we let politicians have our public health discussions instead of allowing those who really know how these things work to do just that… WORK.
Here is the Senate hearing on Dr. Murthy’s nomination, if you want to pull your hair out at the sight of well-fed, well-paid, fully-taken-care-of politicians gambling with our nation’s (and maybe even the world’s) public health. No doubt this little rant of mine, which will live in cyberspace for the foreseeable future, rules me out of any political nominations — at least at a Federal level. I can live with that. I can live with being a troublemaker.
Long live the troublemakers.
René F. Najera, DrPH
I'm a Doctor of Public Health, having studied at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
All opinions are my own and in no way represent anyone else or any of the organizations for which I work.
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