A couple of years ago, I was gifted my first gun as a graduation present from my brother. It was an old M1 Garande that he got for me knowing I was a history nerd with a particular fascination with military history. He thought that I would love to be able to hold and shoot a piece of American history that really did create a giant impact on the world, and he was right. I had been raised around guns coming from rural Appalachia and I was truly excited to say I was a gun owner owning such an amazing rifle. I was also quite happy to share this rifle and take people shooting when we could get the chance to show off my prized rifle. I neglected to understand more than the primary safety responsibilities of what I was owning.
Of course as a gun owner, I follow a set of rules and safety practices to minimize the chances of injury. I always treat the M1 as though it is loaded when I am handling it, even when I know it’s not. When on the range, I make sure that except when I’m shooting that the barrel is pointed towards the ground, when not shooting that the safety is on. Then so many more rules on the range. My rifle is kept in a locked gun case when I am not target shooting, and the ammo is kept in a separate locked box. The rifle itself has a trigger lock on it as an added layer of safety to ensure that no one is messing with it unless I am there. These of course are all practical responsibilities that I knew I had when I owned this rifle, but it wasn’t until I was talking to a family member that I didn’t truly understand just how much responsibility I had.
There was one Thanksgiving Day a few years ago, I was sitting with my cousin basking in the sun, stuffed with my uncle’s Cajun turkey, and enjoying a variety of topics of conversation. We had both been target shooting together in the past and enjoyed the thrill of trying to out shoot the other with fun target challenges and distances. Therefore, guns were a natural topic that came up sometimes. This time I asked him since I had my first gun and he had yet to get one, when would he purchase a gun? His answer shocked me.
“I don’t think I ever will own one.” I was surprised because we both enjoyed target shooting as much as we did.
“I don’t trust myself emotionally with a firearm.”
I sat there for a minute trying to understand what he meant until it all became clear in my mind and then left me with questions. My cousin had been known to sometimes have swings of depression which would leave him hard to communicate with. I didn’t ask him squarely in that moment if suicide was the reason, I assumed that was a primary reason though. This led to me thinking about it for a while after that. I began to understand that with a firearm that there isn’t just a physical responsibility, but there are also emotional and mental responsibilities to owning a firearm.
I think that these mental and emotional responsibilities are often over looked by many gun owners and gun rights activists. I have to commend my cousin in hindsight for his answer, there is a significant level of emotional maturity and knowledge to make that kind of judgement. I have to admit, the question of my own emotional capability to own a firearm was never something I thought about beforehand while owning a rifle. Am I emotionally stable and mature enough to ensure that my ownership of a firearm is safe to me as well as to other people?
In 2017, there were 23,854 suicides by firearms according to the CDC . Firearms are the leading means of suicide in the United States, this is simply because they are effective at what they do. Kill. Many other methods of suicide are less guaranteed to be as effective and can be more painful which can discourage an individual from committing suicide. It’s a sad but brutal truth that is often glanced over in the gun control debate. It is a known fact in the psychiatric community that the less likelihood that an individual has access to a means of quick and least painful suicide, the less suicides there are.
Then every gun owner should question if they are emotionally stable to prevent harm occurring to others. If an individual is not capable of venting and expressing anger in a healthy manner, then violence is likely to occur. Even worse with the presence of a gun with an individual like this, homicide is more likely to occur. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence states, ” The presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of homicide by 500%”. That is not a number that gun owners and politicians should just turn their heads from.
Now I know I write this in the wake of devastating mass shootings, and I am not arguing that mental health is the sole cause of gun violence. There are people in this world that are simply evil and would like to harm others. What I am trying to argue in this piece is: 1) Every gun owner should ask themselves, am I emotionally stable and capable enough to ensure that I won’t harm myself or others while possessing my firearms? 2) Why can’t we apply this same thinking nationally with our gun regulations? I want that same question to be asked of anyone buying a firearm. If that individual says no, then why should they own that firearm?
Lately there have been talks of ‘Red Flag’ laws across our country which in simplified form allows for law enforcement to revoke firearm ownership temporarily based on a petition of concern about different individuals. The court will examine the individual’s actions and then make a determination as to whether or not law enforcement may take the guns away from the owner. If the owner refuses, they will face criminal charges. When the deadline approaches for the temporary firearm holding, the judge will review the case again and make another determination of whether to release those firearms or hold them longer.
I won’t argue the constitutionality of this law, however in terms safety for the public these laws are pretty effective. Taking away a fire arm from an individual who is struggling through suicide takes away a lethal means from that individual and works to lower the chances of a successful suicide. In the case of domestic violence, the victim could remove firearms through the courts during the worst of the situation. This could grant a safer escape from that situation for the victim until they can be relocated to a safe location.
This question of mental responsibility is one that can’t be asked only once. Everyday that a gun owner is around a firearm, they should ask that same question. Am I emotionally stable to ensure that I won’t bring harm to myself or to others? If the answer is no, please consider temporarily leaving that firearm with a close friend, or if need be consider a gun buy back program. In the end just understand that this is a question of safe and responsible gun ownership and I implore every gun owner to ask themselves the same question.