In one of my favorite photos of me as a toddler I’m sitting on a pony in some sort of cowboy get-up. I’m not holding a gun but it’s not difficult to imagine one there in the holster I’m wearing.
It wouldn’t take long before much of my play involved guns and shooting. I had what seems to be a fairly typical 70s upbringing (other than the fundamentalist Christian part) in a small, semi-rural town and the boys I grew up around, including my younger brother, liked to pretend we were Cowboys or Indians (we didn’t know about Native Americans then), G.I. Joe, super heroes, or Han Solo.
There were some minor mishaps. I once shot a tiny plastic bullet up my nose with a small plastic gun; the kind of toy that likely wouldn’t make it onto store shelves today. I doubt I was the only child dumb enough to try that trick. And, no, it wasn’t a dare and unfortunately it sent me to the doctor to get the bullet removed.
At summer camp one year I shot my first .22 rifle. It was exhilarating and, firing round after round, I didn’t want it to end. Learning to shoot is one of the only things I remember about that camp.
But my father was not a hunter and so there was little opportunity to further hone my sniper skills.
My brother and I did get our hands on my dad’s old BB gun and sometimes used it to shoot at pop cans and bottles, and the occasional squirrel or bird (thankfully, we had poor aim). However, we preferred to spend our days playing baseball instead of wasting BB’s.
Soon video games came along and, though I did enjoy some early shooter games like Galaga, I never spent much time at the arcade.
And here is a secret I never spoke about: I often thought of killing myself.
A few years before entering high school we moved to an even more rural town about 25 miles outside Ann Arbor, Michigan. As I look back on my adolescence one thing becomes clear, even though I didn’t fully understand it then.
I was often depressed.
I ignored it for years, downplaying it because the depression didn’t seem as severe as some others experienced. I did not take it seriously because I never spent all day in bed or took medication for my depression.
However, when I am honest I realize that my depression did occasionally prevent me from taking care of my normal day-to-day responsibilities. There is little doubt that some of my work absences over the years were not simply due to a minor cold, as I had claimed, but due to my inability to face anyone or anything that day.
Or to put it more clearly: I stayed home from work (or school) because I was too depressed to interact with anyone.
That is hard for me to admit.
And here is a secret I never spoke about: I often thought of killing myself.
(Though there was the one time after I’d returned from a summer in London. Throughout my teens I wrote terrible, depressive poetry and while I was away my father came upon my poems. One night shortly after I returned from my trip, my parents, divorced at the time, asked me if I had thought of killing myself. I wept and admitted that I had. But that was the end of it. I don’t remember us speaking of it ever again.)
And a second secret: I still battle those thoughts from time to time.
And by “time to time” I mean about a half-dozen times a year, when I experience a depression of varying depths that lasts about a week.
Those half-dozen times seize me suddenly, and fiercely, though I experience it as a strange numbness and lethargy. I don’t want to interact with the world and I often feel close to tears. There is rarely any sort of precipitating event that I can tie it too.
It’s clearly a bio-chemical problem and though I know I shouldn’t drink during those days I find it nearly impossible to resist, making the depression that much stronger.
And just as suddenly as it comes upon me it leaves me. I’ll wake up one morning and feel lighter. I return to normal until the next time the noonday demon decides to arrive unannounced.
And here is a final secret: my suicidal thoughts, or fantasies, always involve a gun.
These thoughts were intensified and more frequent as a teenager and I feel fortunate we did not have a gun in the home at that time. Suicide by BB gun was not something I had the patience for.
When we flash forward to my late twenties and early thirties, when I went through a painful divorce and drank much too often, I regularly thought of purchasing a gun. Thankfully something, or someone, prevented me from doing so.
This leads me to the obvious, and controversial, subject of gun control. I’ll be honest: I don’t understand the love many have for guns.
Guns are intended to harm and kill. That is their purpose. I find myself unable to love a weapon.
Are they useful? Sure. And they are incredibly effective.
I understand the need for a gun when hunting.
But, hey, I’m a vegetarian.
What I also don’t understand is the immediate and passionate defense of an inanimate object (used for killing, should I remind you?) when a terrible tragedy occurs, like the deaths of nine people in a Charleston church or twelve people in a Colorado movie theater.
Or when twenty children are killed at an elementary school.
Every one of those children at Sandy Hook Elementary is far more valuable than the right of Adam Lanza (or me, or you) to own a gun.
Those beautiful children are irreplaceable.
In answer to Cain’s question, yes, we are our brother’s (and sister’s) keeper. We are responsible to and for everyone and everything. We are all connected. To borrow a line from Bono (yes, I had to get a U2 reference in here) “there is no them, there’s only us.”
If we truly care about our brothers and sisters who take their lives every year (most commonly with a firearm) we would do something.
Nearly 40,000 people kill themselves in the U.S. every year. Suicide is the second-leading killer of those between 15-34 years old.
Approximately 22 veterans in the U.S. commit suicide every single day.
Shouldn’t those numbers move us to do something? Shouldn’t the people we know in our community, our friends and neighbors who commit suicide, move us to do something?
If we truly care about our brothers and sisters who take their lives every year (most commonly with a firearm) we would do something. We would advocate for more (affordable) treatment options.
And we might even advocate for laws that make acquiring firearms more difficult.
Every day, for most of us, our lives involve some sort of sacrifice. We don’t and can’t get everything we want. For those of us who become parents we know that we often make decisions, sacrifices, and actions for the betterment of our children. Some of these sacrifices involve loss of freedoms. We’re unable to go out at night with our best friends because we don’t have a sitter for the children. Or we censor our language to refrain from saying “fuck” in front of them. We usually don’t think twice about these sacrifices because we love our children and we want what is best for them. We make similar sacrifices for other family members and friends.
Cynthia, Susie, Ethel, DePayne, Clementa, Daniel, Tywanza, Sharonda, and Myra were our brothers and sisters in Charleston. Now they are gone.
Jonathan, Alexander, Jesse, Gordon, Jessica, John, Matt, Micayla, Veronica, Alex, Alexander, and Rebecca were our brothers, sisters, and children in Aurora, Colorado. Now they are gone.
Allison, Benjamin, Madeleine, Jack, Charlotte, Avielle, Caroline, Anne Marie, James, Ana, Jesse, Chase, Catherine, Dylan, Josephine, Rachel, Daniel, Emilie, Dawn, Lauren, Olivia, Jessica, Mary, Victoria, Noah, and Grace were our sisters and children in Newtown. Now they are gone.
Dylann, James, and Adam were also our children (though I can’t begin to understand their actions).
Speaking of children, my children have brought me incredible joy. Their existence makes we want to live a long life and make the world a better place for them to grow up in.
But that doesn’t prevent my depression.And parents do commit suicide.
When tragic events like mass shootings occur I often think—like many others—that I should purchase a gun to protect my children. Yet I resist.
I know that eventually that gun might be used on me, by me.
I don’t know what the future holds. It is possible my family could encounter job loss, financial troubles, or an unexpected health crisis. Intense stresses, along with depression and easy access to a gun could make suicide seem like the only way out.
So, I will never purchase a gun.
There is also the possibility that one of my children will also experience depression when they move into adolescence.
And so, I will never purchase a gun.
We can’t do anything to bring back the fifty people listed above. But we can honor them by making decisions that will prevent us from losing fifty more brothers, sisters, and children, and make it more difficult for the 40,000 people considering suicide to succeed next year.
By taking action, the life you save just might be that of someone near to you, someone you love deeply, and someone you don’t even suspect is capable of taking their own life.