Let’s talk about the “gun control debate.”

To begin with, it ain’t much of a debate. From what I can see, it looks mostly like two sides yelling at each other and then covering their ears when the other side is speaking. Given the nature of the American ‘presidential debates, I wouldn’t expect anything resembling a classic debate, but what we’re seeing is disappointing even in that low light.

I respect the U.S. constitution, and the second amendment is part of that document. Regardless of what I think of personal gun ownership, the law of the land permits it and suggesting otherwise is dishonest. We can argue whether or not people should be allowed to own guns, but that’s an academic exercise unless the law changes.  I’m also not terribly concerned about the “intentions of the founding fathers.” They wrote a great document, but they weren’t perfect and they certainly weren’t unanimous about much anything, and that includes the meaning of what they’d written.  That, plus the fact that the 18th century was a long time ago and many things have changed since then, makes me very suspicious of any appeals to the intent of the founders.

I’m extremely wary of any statistics citing how many lives are lost to gun-related crime and how many lives are saved by gun-related self-defense. Frankly, I haven’t spent enough time researching the various sources to have a good feel for which numbers are honest and meaningful and which are just being used to push an agenda. I have an opinion that the easy availability of lethal weaponry likely results in more deaths than if these weapons weren’t so readily available, but that’s about as strongly as I’m willing to state that position.

Where I am willing to put my foot down is in an area where gun deaths are far, far greater than in gun-related crime. Gun ownership is a huge risk factor when we’re discussing suicides. People kill themselves with guns. They do this a lot. Half of all suicides in the United States involve guns.  There are 75% more suicides using guns than murders using guns in the U.S.

Now, just like with homicide, a common response to this is “Well, if there were no guns around, people would just find other ways to kill themselves.” That sounds reasonable, but it isn’t true. Small obstacles to suicide are a disproportionately large deterrent. That’s why having a firearm in the home is one of the risk factors. I’m not saying that people kill themselves because there’s a gun around; people kill themselves for a variety of reasons but having an “easy” means of doing it makes it much more likely that they’ll go through with it.

So, look, go ahead and have a debate about gun rights and gun ownership and how much it can be regulated by the government. But please, understand that this discussion should not be restricted strictly to crime and self-defense. We’re also talking about keeping an “off-switch” for human life within arm’s reach in people’s homes. If we don’t consider the impact of gun ownership on suicides, we’re not having an honest debate.

Not that we really were anyway.

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