How many people die annually from gun violence? If you’re a gun-control advocate, you’ll usually say that it’s somewhere around 31,000. On the other hand, if you’re pro-gun, you’ll say it’s 11,000, give or take a few. The difference is whether or not suicide is considered a type of gun violence, because every year more than 20,000 Americans end their own lives by using a gun. And if you want to meet your Maker before He wants to meet you, there’s nothing as efficient as pulling out the ol’ firearm, aiming it at yourself and – bam! Gun suicide is effective 90% of the time, no other life-ending behavior is half as good.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), violence is defined as someone who attempts to injure themselves or someone else. So from a medical point of view, gun suicide is certainly a type of gun violence. But the disagreement between pro-gun and anti-gun forces isn’t about medicine, it’s about politics, messaging and whether we need guns around or not. Which is why until recently, the gun industry has preferred to keep discussions about gun suicide on the back burner, but that’s about to change.
Last year the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the industry’s lobbying and trade organization began talking to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) in an effort to find some common ground. And what has emerged from these talks is a four-state, pilot program that will put suicide prevention messaging in gun shops and shooting ranges, a program that will then be widened with the goal of reducing gun suicides 20% nationally by 2025. The project was officially kicked off with a press conference at this week’s SHOT show, and is publicly displayed on the websites of the AFSP and NSSF.
Predictably, the fringe elements in Gun-nut World were reluctant to jump on board unless this initiative and other similar programs would steer clear of any explicit or implicit attempt to use this activity to regulate guns. Alan Gottleib, whose 2nd Amendment Foundation is really a cover for his very-profitable mail solicitation business, helped craft a bill before the Washington State legislature that establishes a ‘safe homes’ task force that will create messaging and training materials for ‘voluntary’ use by gun dealers. The Task Force membership includes Gottleib and a rep from the NRA. I don’t notice any representation from the groups in Washington State that pushed through an extension of background checks over the vigorous opposition of the NRA and the Gottleib gang.
This is the problem with the new suicide initiative announced by the NSSF and the AFSP, namely, that it’s a voluntary effort, which when it comes to educating about gun violence is where the gun industry always draws the line. Gun-nut Nation’s phobia about government mandates is about as extreme as the phobia that some people have about immunizing their kids against disease. And frankly, both phobias come from the same place; i.e., mistrust of government and a total misrepresentation of the facts. Fact: There is absolutely no connection between NICS-background checks and national registration of guns. Fact: There is absolutely no connection between immunizations and autism, despite what Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. says.
If you walk into a gun shop today, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll see a ‘Don’t Lie For The Other Guy’ poster on the wall. This is a long-standing partnership between the ATF and the NSSF to discourage straw sales at the counter-top, a project that is dear to the hearts of everyone in the GVP community as well. In fact, displaying this message is mandatory, although ATF agents don’t check to see if the poster is hanging on the wall or not.
Of course we would like gun-suicide prevention programs to have some teeth. Of course we would like Gun-nut Nation to stop opposing sensible laws that would enable family members of at-risk individuals to remove their guns. Of course, of course, of course. But the NSSF-AFSP partnership is a good start.