12 February 2013

Depression and the Second Amendment: Should I Have a Gun?

I've done a pretty lousy job blogging the last few months. I managed just four posts in all of January, which in turn means I've managed just four posts all year. Tomorrow night, President Obama will deliver the State of the Union address. Noted political theorist Ted Nugent will be in attendance as the guest of a member of Congress. Someone screwed this up, because that won't be fun TV. Bring Nugent to the White House Correspondents Dinner. Then you've got something.

This is often a political blog, though not so political that I feel I live up to the title I selected for it. I content myself that "fraternité" is an umbrella for sharing subjects of common interest such as hobbies. That third definitely dominates over "liberté" and "égalité", though.

One thing that has me thinking is discussion amid the gun control proposals about mental health. A lot of people are unaware, but there are differences in legal definitions about mental health than what are found in psychiatry. I bring this up because it's entirely possible for the law and psychiatry to disagree about the status of a given person's mental health. Case in point: Me.

Legally, I have not been re-classified as anything other than perfectly healthy (mentally, anyway). You and I know, Dear Reader, though that's not accurate. I've reached a fairly stable point with managing my mental health issues but they're chronic. They're always with me. Medicine would be irresponsible to ever say I'm "all better". The most it can say is that I'm "better right now".

My wife actually kept a revolver in her nightstand. There were countless nights in 2011 when I gave very serious thought to killing myself but truth be told I only thought about using her revolver once or twice and neither time did I consider it very seriously. It's just not my style. For one thing, it's terribly messy. Leaving behind a corpse is one thing. That can't be helped when you're committing suicide. But leaving behind a biohazard mess for my loved ones to clean? That's just inconsiderate.

I'm also certain that if I tried to use a gun to kill myself, I'd be that guy who screwed it up and wind up paralyzed or some such, but not actually die. What if I wound up like that patient LL Cool J played on House whose body was completely frozen and everyone thought he was brain dead but he really wasn't? I can't imagine many fates more frightening than that. I'm sure there are some, but I don't want to consider them!

Of course, that was a concern with any means of self-harm I contemplated but for some reason the risk just seemed a lot higher with a gun. I never even opened the drawer to look at the revolver. It wasn't on the table. Furthermore, I never gave even the slightest thought to ever harming anyone else - with, or without a gun. Again, that's just not my style. "I am a lover, not a fighter!"

In my novel, I wrote a scene in which one character uses a Glock-19 to shoot another character in a hotel ballroom. I picked that specific weapon because my brother owns one and he showed it to me. It was perfect for my character: easy to conceal, easy to draw and fire and definitely capable of putting down the target. That's how Glock made the gun and it's how they promote it. My brother invited me to go with him to a firing range some time to actually fire it myself so that I could write about the shooting with more veracity. I've not yet taken him up on the offer, mostly because we just haven't gotten around to it. Besides, I've fired a pistol before and I recall that experience vividly enough that I feel the couple of sentences I devoted to the moment are sufficient.

Here I am, though, contemplating how many other Americans are out there just like me: mentally ill, but not legally identified as such. I'm harmless, to others anyway, but who's to say about the rest? Clearly not everyone with mental illness is as docile as me, or we wouldn't be concerned about such people getting hold of firearms. Should I not be allowed to have a gun on account of my mental health, despite the fact that I have done nothing that would otherwise justify curbing my legal right to one? What about going to a firing range? Should I at least be allowed to do that, at my brother's invitation?

Or, let me flip it around:

Do you feel comfortable knowing there are people out there right now just like me who are presently off the law's radar, but are known to their physicians and loved ones as being mentally ill, who can legally get hold of a weapon? Would you feel comfortable standing next to such a person at a firing range?

Being mentally ill doesn't automatically make someone a menace to society. I've shared my experiences with depression and anxiety so candidly for the express purpose of trying to challenge the ignorance about people like myself. I sincerely hope that anyone who reads my posts about depression walks away with a new perception of patients like me.

Part of speaking so candidly, though, means owning up to the unpleasantness about what it's like. Suppose you wanted to argue that someone who's determined to kill themselves will still find a way even without a gun. You're right, but consider the following statistics from the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence:

  • Suicide is still the leading cause of firearm death in the U.S.
  • More than half of all suicides in the U.S. are committed with firearms.
  • Unlike suicide attempts using other methods, 92% of suicide attempts with guns are fatal, meaning a temporarily depressed teenager will never get a second chance at life.
  • A gun in the home is 11 times more likely to be used to attempt or commit a suicide than to be used in self-defense.
  • Homes with guns are 5 times more likely to experience the suicide of a household member than homes without guns.

Suppose it's not federal stormtroopers that you need to fear, or even the bogeyman home invader. What if it's your own loved one?

One nice thing about the Internet is that patients facing depression can reach out and connect with people without having to necessarily endure the embarrassment and humiliation that we often face in person. There's a lot less shame when you're typing on a keyboard than when you have to look someone in the eye and explain what's going on with you.

The danger, though, is that someone with depression can reach out online while never saying a word to indicate there's a problem to anyone offline. My online pals and friends probably had a much clearer understanding of just how depressed I had become than 95% of all the people I interact with in person ever had a chance of knowing. My point in this is that if you think, "Well, I would know if someone in my own home was depressed", you may very well not know until it's too late. There are plenty of people out there who didn't realize what their loved ones were going through until it was too late. They spend the rest of their lives trying to figure out what they missed and grappling with the guilt. It's not because they were any less observant than you or any more selfish than you. It's that a big part of being depressed is hiding it.

I honestly don't have answers to any of these questions myself, or any of the obvious follow-up questions they invite. I just wanted to put this all out there for your consideration.