One More Reason To Not Have Guns In Your Home

by Amber Leventry
Originally Published: 
Jennifer A Smith

Trigger warning: suicide

America has an obsession with guns. On one side, we are obsessed with getting tougher laws and stricter background checks when it comes to buying a gun. Many fight tirelessly to be sure states and politicians are working to make spaces safer from accidental, snap decision, and well thought out forms of gun violence.

On the other side, we have people who are so afraid of losing their right to bear arms that no common sense seems to make sense to those clutching their gun collection as tight as they typically clutch their bible and “conservative values”. Those people often call mass shootings a mental health problem, not a gun problem. The stigma around mental illness in this country is dangerous and wrong. And while those who commit horrific acts of gun violence may need mental health care, most people with a form of mental illness DO NOT commit crimes of violence against others. We often turn the gun on ourselves.

Suicide rates are on the rise in all age groups, but most alarming are the rates of suicide attempts and ideation among teens and children. A new study published in JAMA Pediatrics shows that this rate has doubled between 2007 and 2015. Each year the Center for Disease Control and Prevention issues the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey. Children from 5 to 18 were tracked in 300 emergency rooms in the United States. The average age of a child given the diagnosis of suicidal ideation or suicide attempt was 13. Even more heartbreaking is the fact that 43% of children being treated for one of these two diagnoses were between the ages of 5 and 11.

Before kids are thinking about or experiencing puberty, they are thinking about ways to end their lives. This is a national emergency. A true crisis.

A massive call to immediate action. Or, at least, it should be.

The underlying reason is depression, but there is speculation as to why our kids are feeling hopeless, tired, and out of options. Some argue that social media plays a role in children’s mental health. From the effects of screen time on developing brains to the reliance of likes, hearts, and virtual friends on popular apps for self-esteem boosts, our kids’ ability to see everything and be seen all of the time is not always healthy. This also exposes them to cyberbullying. If we are not monitoring the messages our children are receiving through their phone and personal computer, parents may be missing key signs of their children’s suffering.

Children are under more stress than previous generations. Our culture pushes a keep-up-or-get-left-behind pace, full of people telling kids they have to accumulate perfect grades, achieve all of the goals, and be the best athlete on the field to get into the perfect school so they can reach their dreams. It’s too much pressure.

LGBTQ kids are coming out as their true selves at earlier ages than previous generations. There have always been gay and transgender kids, but as society slowly shifts to a more accepting one, kids are seeing more queer people in the media and their personal lives. They are seeing not just the backlash, but the support that can come from being out. Queer kids are asking for and expecting to receive the unconditional love all kids should be given. They deserve this, but results are mixed. Kids may be accepted at home but not at school and vice versa.

The rates of self-harm for LGBTQ kids confirm this. “A study from University College London proved what most of us in the queer community already know: LGBTQ youth and teens are more depressed and are four times more likely to attempt suicide and self-harm than their heterosexual peers.”

Even if parents do know about their kids’ struggles with mental health and are proactive to in their care, finding help isn’t easy. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry shows the severe shortage of child and adolescent psychiatrists. Less than 17 providers are available to help 100,000 children suffering with mental illness.

Depression and lack of support is a dangerous combination. Depression tells us all kinds of lies, specifically that we are burdens, that life will not get better, and that those around us will be better off without us. I am an adult with all of the resources I need when I slide into a cycle of depression, yet I still have suicidal ideation. A child who has little to no support, without the mental capacity to know things will get better, and who also has access to a gun at home is not a risk to their classmates. They are a risk to themselves.

I remember being a teenager and sitting in my bed with my father’s hunting rifle. I was terrified of it. But I knew the power and possibility it held. On the surface I was perfect. I was a multi-sport, star athlete. I was an honor student. I didn’t drink or do drugs. I was respectful. But underneath that I was miserable. I was a closeted kid and a victim of physical and sexual abuse. I was dying from the shame that came with my secrets. The few people who knew what I thought were ugly and awful details about myself did not support me. They turned their backs, and I felt justified in my reasoning that I should kill myself.

Finding the rifle was not hard. It had been in the same place for years. It was in my father’s closet, propped up next to his shoes. The box of ammunition was there too. I was smart; I figured I could load the gun. I was desperate; I figured I could pull the trigger and it would all go away. I sat with the gun for a long time. I hadn’t written a note, though. The feelings of guilt from not having done that were what made me put the gun back.

Parents are so concerned with their kids getting hurt outside of their care but often forget the damage that can be done at home. Eliminate one of these concerns by not having guns at home. Or if you do, lock them up in a safe. Not under the bed or high on a closet shelf. Keep the ammunition separate from the gun. Hide the keys or safe combination from your kids. For more information about proper gun storage and child access laws, go here.

Look for these signs of depression in your children, and act quickly if you’re concerned. Make it impossible for your tween and teenager to access a gun in your home.

Not all kids will put the gun back. Remember that.

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