Most of the time, we talk about guns when someone fires them at other people. We’ve written many times here over the course of many years about the epidemic of mass shootings, as people with a variety of motivations but a shared reservoir of hatred and access to firearms act out their grotesque power fantasies on unsuspecting people at schools, shopping malls, workplaces and other spaces of what should be regular life.
Just this past weekend, the United States hit a ghastly record, with the 37th recorded mass gun killing — claiming the lives of four or more victims — happening in Dallas, with four people, including a toddler, slain by an assailant who then fatally shot himself. With that, 2023 beat out last year’s record of 36 such mass killings with still almost a month left in the year. Not two hours later, police were informed of another shooting in a Washington State suburb that left five people dead, bringing the total to 38.
We’ve also written about the sadly more quotidian drumbeat of gun crime in cities, towns, villages, suburbs and other jurisdictions large and small across the country. Guns escalate what would have been petty disputes, grievances or momentary displays of bravado into murders, and often provide the tragic endpoint to situations of domestic and intimate partner violence.
This avalanche of guns is perhaps understood in the context of the difference they make in otherwise identical scenarios — two men bump each other outside a bar, and instead of a black eye and a bruised ego, a father doesn’t ever return home to his kids.
The same is true in that scenario we don’t talk about enough despite how common it is, which is when the bullet’s target is the very same person who wields the gun. Plenty of research shows that the majority of people who attempt suicide do so during an acute mental health crisis that can last hours or even just minutes. During these moments of crisis, the actual ability to quickly follow through is often determinative, and a gun only takes a few seconds to load and use, not to mention that it is specifically designed to kill humans and quite good at doing so.
According to data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the rate of suicides by firearm has been consistently climbing for the last few years, growing some 11% from 2019 to 2022, or 7.3 gun suicides per 100,000 people to 8.1. The increases happened across ethnic groups, though some had greater increases than others, with American Indian or Alaska Native populations seeing a terrifying 66% increase, to a rate of 10.6.
Despite the Second Amendment, this isn’t acceptable. At minimum, people who do own guns should take care to have them properly locked up and out of the hands of others, including children, who might use them to harm themselves or others. Still that won’t do much to stop people who want to use their own legally purchased guns for ill.
For us to really move the needle, there have to be fewer gun sales overall, which means tightening up rules to prevent sales to those that have exhibited any intent to cause harm, and more broadly moving away from a culture of reflexive gun ownership. Until then, they’ll keep killing.