What if Stephen Paddock was a suicide prevention advocate?

Suppose, for a moment, that Stephen Paddock, the man responsible for the massacre in Las Vegas, was a suicidal suicide prevention activist, committed to transforming the gun debate.  Imagine if what you see below was his suicide note.

Any reasonable person who spends even a modicum of effort to try to develop a plan to reduce the number of Americans who die every year from gun violence would focus on preventing suicides by firearm.

Even a child in grade school, given a handful of statistics, can quickly surmise that the people in power in Washington are more focused on remaining in power, and enriching themselves financially, than reducing the number of people who die by suicide by gun. What I have done here in Las Vegas was aimed at highlighting the facts that I just pointed out.

I predict that media organizations in this country will repeatedly play video recordings of the terrifying fish-in-a-barrel massacre that I just perpetrated.  They will sensationalize the horror I rained down on the unlucky people caught up in my plan to make a meaningful difference in this world before I die.  Details about the modifications made to the weapons I intend to use will be seized upon, and may even inspire talk from some pols about banning such devices.  When they do, be sure to ask them, “How many of the 60 Americans who die by suicide by firearm, every single day in the U.S., kill themselves with a semi-automatic weapon that’s been legally modified to an automatic one?”

Make no mistake, this country’s problem isn’t gun control, it’s the love of profit over life.

Truth be told, I am suicidal.  Why I feel this way is unimportant, but what is important to me is that people understand why I did what I did.

My dying wish is to transform the way the people in this country frame the gun control problem.  May the lives lost in this massacre not be lost in vain.  Let this event and these words be the one to inspire Americans to finally begin to realize that for-profit media concerns and self-interested politicians are the puppet masters pulling the strings of an all too amenable public.  Americans must never forget that they live in the capital of capitalism.

As terrifying as mass murder massacres undoubtedly are, the loss of lives as a result of them, pales in comparison to the number of people who die by suicide.  About 120 Americans die by suicide every single day in this country, and about half of those are suicides by firearm.  Refuse to be distracted by the sensationalistic news coverage.  Refuse to let politicians and for-profit media companies focus the gun control debate on these relatively rare events that claim so few lives compared to suicide.

Stephen Paddock
Suicide Prevention Advocate

Do you think a revelation like this would make any difference in the gun control debate?

Is building the Golden Gate Bridge suicide deterrent net a myopic misappropriation of money?

If you are part of the suicide prevention movement, you are likely aware of the fact that work to attach a suicide deterrent system to the Golden Gate Bridge commenced recently.  While reading the piece about this seminal event by Samantha Schmidt published in the Washington Post, I found the exchange pictured below in the comments online.

 I replied to “Kompromat” as follows:

I’ll grant that the claim about finding other means to die by suicide is contradicted by empirical evidence, but I’m curious what scientific studies you’re referring to regarding the other two claims. More than 1500 Americans die every single month due to suicide via a firearm – a death toll of over 1.7 million lives lost over 80 years. Claiming that $200 million is “too high a price” to pay to save hundreds of people from dying by suicide, when thousands or tens of thousands of lives might be saved if this money was directed to firearms means restriction programs seems like a reasonable claim. Unfortunately so too is the claim about life being too painful for too many people to endure.

If/when a suicide occurs at the Golden Gate Bridge after the net is completed, it will surely be the most sensationalized suicide in US history, won’t it? This event, if/when it occurs will also be the most demoralizing, and most costly, financially speaking, for the suicide prevention movement, I imagine.

I think spending over $200 million dollars on this net sets the stage for a suicide prevention movement calamity. The net will be 20 feet below the bridge, right? Imagine a suicidal person at the ceremony commemorating the net’s completion. Imagine this person has a ten foot metal cable concealed under her clothing. One end of the cable has a fastener capable of being quickly attached to the bridge’s railing, the other end is looped around her neck.

Surely, the installation of the net at the Golden Gate Bridge increases the chances of a horrifically tragic event like this happening. The only reasonable reason to spend over $200 million on this project is to create a suicide means restriction symbol.

It seems reasonable to claim that given:

1. the fungibility of money,
2. the relatively minuscule number of lives lost to suicide at the bridge versus suicide by firearms nationally (58 every single day) and
3. the patent increase in the likelihood of the most sensationalized suicide ever, occurring at the bridge, to ill-effect to the cause of reducing the suicide rate…

that a suicide prevention investment of this magnitude for this purpose is so myopic that it’s a moronic misappropriation of money.

Make no mistake, if I could snap my fingers, and cause suicide deterrent systems like the one being built at the Golden Gate Bridge to magically exist under every single bridge on Earth where a suicide has occurred, I would.

That said, surely a life lost to suicide at the Golden Gate Bridge is not more valuable than any other life lost to suicide, right?  In the work of stopping suicide, it’s an absolute value numbers game, isn’t it?

The resources at our collective disposal to prevent suicide are scarce.  For example, The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the largest private national non-profit involved in the fight to stop suicide has an annual budget that’s only about $18 Million.  The AFSP is going after reducing the suicide rate in a strategic way to make the best use of the limited financial resources it has at its disposal.  They have a practical plan to reduce the U.S. suicide rate by 20% by 2025.  A primary focus in that plan is to aggressively address lethal means restriction as a way to save lives.  The most common way to die by suicide in this country is by firearm, and the AFSP has recently started working directly with the National Shooting Sports Foundation.  Their collaboration has led to a breakthrough firearms lethal means restriction program.

The AFSP is working with representatives from local gun shops, shooting ranges and hunting clubs to educate retailers and the firearm-owning community on suicide prevention and firearms.  The pilot program, involving community-based AFSP chapters in four states, is the first time a national suicide organization has collaborated with gun retailers, range owners and the firearm-owning community about suicide prevention and firearms.  Many of the strategies of the pilot program will utilize co-developed resources through a new partnership between AFSP and the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the trade association for the firearms industry.  “One of the first areas identified through Project 2025, our initiative aimed at reducing the annual suicide rate 20 percent by 2025, was a critical need to reduce the number of suicides using a firearm. But, we know we can’t do it alone,” said AFSP CEO Robert Gebbia. We will work alongside firearm retailers and range owners and the firearm-owning community to better inform and educate them on warning signs, and what to do if someone may be at risk for suicide.”

I will stipulate that there is a non-zero chance that if the suicide deterrent system at the Golden Gate Bridge is completed that not one single human being will ever again die by suicide at or on the bridge or the net.  That said, given my personal experience with suicidal thoughts and behavior, as well as my experience with other extreme states of highly creative consciousness, I doubt that the net will be the end of suicide at the Golden Gate Bridge.  It would surprise me if the completion of the net is not followed by a suicide at the bridge, assuming that its completion is not marked and forever marred by one.

Dying by suicide by jumping off of the Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most predictably sensational ways to die by suicide on Earth.  Investing in a suicide deterrent system with a price tag of $204,000,000 is a sensational way to deal with a sensational problem.  Not seriously considering how such a sensational act may presage the most sensational suicide of all time seems myopic to me.

I call on all of my brothers and sisters in this movement to save lives to consider thinking more critically and analytically about how we apportion the scant financial resources we have at our disposal to cause the suicide rate to go down as quickly as possible.

frank talk about Charleston, mass shootings, guns and the beginning of the end of suicide in America

Note:  I wrote this post before I heard President Obama’s eulogy for the Honorable Reverend Clementa Pinckney.

 

Like millions of other people around the world I was saddened and disgusted by the cold-blooded murders in Charleston last week.  In my view, looking at our nation’s entire history, you are blind if you do not readily recognize the significant strides in civil rights made by and for African Americans and other minorities in this country.  I think you are equally blind, if you are unable to see  how far we still have to go, to live in a society free of hate, hateful acts, and discrimination.

To the families and loved ones of the fallen:

Please accept my deepest sympathies  for your loss; you have been and continue to be in my thoughts.  I cannot fathom how painful it must be to lose a loved one to such senseless violence, and I was moved to tears when I first heard the amazing expressions of mercy-filled forgiveness from some of you on the news.

I heard Anthony Thompson speaking to his wife’s killer say, “I forgive you.”

I heard Bethane Middleton-Brown, Reverend Middleton’s sister, tell her brother’s murderer:  “We are the family that love built, we have no room for hate, so we have to forgive.”

And I heard Nadine Collier who lost her mother, say this:  “I just want everyone to know I forgive you.  You hurt me, you hurt a lot of people, but I forgive you.”

These incredible examples of forgiveness are profoundly beautiful and inspiring reminders of the redemptive power of love.  Thank you for having the courage, and the strength and the compassion and the grace to respond to hate with love as you have.  Your expressions of forgiveness to your loved ones’ murderer very well may have saved other lives by inspiring peace in the wake of this tragedy.  I commend you for leading with your love, and I hope that you may find peace, as you mourn, remember, and pay tribute to the memory of your loved ones.

To the people of Charleston:

The peaceful, love-filled response to these horrible murders shows me and the rest of the world that the words of Alana Simmons will never be proven wrong.  “Hate won’t win,” she told her grandfather’s killer.  The sense of collective unity and strength exemplified by your community’s peaceful response to this tragedy reminds us all again of the unstoppable power of love to continually rise up and overwhelm destructive forces of senseless hate and violence.  Thank you for your strength and fellowship during this trying time for your community.

To the person who repeatedly pulled the trigger on the gun, last week, that killed nine members of the Emanuel A.M.E. Church Bible study group:

The murder of a single innocent person is a crime against all of humanity.  Inspired by the amazing examples of mercy shown to you by the loved ones of your victims, I too forgive you.  It’s impossible for you to undo the damage that you’ve done or to make up for the heartbreak that you’ve caused, but it is within your power to show genuine remorse.  I know very little about you and the life you’ve led, but whatever the source is of your hate, I don’t believe that you were born with it.  As a result, I am sorry that whatever happened to you to cause you to think and act as you did last week ever happened, truly I am.  You still do have the power to redeem yourself by working to replace the hate in your heart with love.  I would not be surprised at all if the loved ones of your victims offer to help you do this. Make no mistake, those people are subject matter experts in love, and at the very least, you can learn from their example, and I sincerely hope that you do.

Guns and Suicide in the United States

Considering my personal thoughts and feelings about the importance of the suicide awareness and prevention movement, I’m compelled to take this opportunity to raise awareness about some important, and very probably surprising facts, for many, related to gun violence and how the overwhelming majority of its victims die in this country.

Taking a look at data from 2009 published by the CDC, the total number of deaths caused by guns that year was just over 31,000.  Of those, nearly 19,000, or about 60% were suicides, a number that represents just over half of all suicides that occurred in the US that year.  Around 37% of the deaths caused by guns in 2009, or about 11,500 of them, were homicides, 39 of which occurred during four separate mass shooting incidents, according to data in a Mother Jones report.

So, doing the math, for every one American that was murdered in a mass shooting event in 2009, about 480 Americans died by suicide via a gun.  If you compare mass shooting deaths with all suicides from that year, regardless of the method, this ratio jumps to almost 1000 suicides in America for every single person murdered during a mass shooting incident.

567 Americans have died in 70 mass shootings from 1982 up to and including the one in Charleston last week.  In 2013 about 41,000 Americans died by suicide, averaging 113 lives lost daily.  So, doing the math again, tragically, it only took five days for suicide to claim 567 American lives, the same number of lives lost in every single mass shooting to occur in this country over the last 33 years, combined.  Finally, if the suicide death toll were to remain constant over the next 33 years, we would lose more than 1.3 million American lives over that time period.

To President Obama:

After 20 six and seven year olds were massacred at Sandy Hook Elementary School you said:  “As a country, we have been through this too many times… And we’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.”  After the mass shooting in Charleston last week, you said:  “…at some point, it’s going to be important for America to come to grips with [gun violence] and for us to be able to shift how we think about the issue… collectively.”

I agree with you Mr. President, and I, and my fellow suicide awareness and prevention activists are committed to shifting that thinking, right now.

Every single innocent life lost due to murder is tragic and significant, undoubtedly, but, the facts about suicide and guns that I have presented here clearly demonstrate how insignificant mass shootings are, relatively speaking, as a cause of death in this country.

I respectfully urge you to consider using your bully pulpit to lead a conversation in this country about access restrictions on guns as a way to save thousands of American lives.  A 2014 study from the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that: “Reducing the availability of highly lethal and commonly used suicide methods has been associated with declines in suicide rates of as much as 30%–50% in other countries.”  What’s most interesting about this finding is that restricting access to the means of suicide can dramatically impact the suicide rate without even addressing the mental health condition responsible for the suicidal ideations.   This is a vitally important insight, because suicidal ideations are often impulsive and very hard to predict.

A 50% reduction in the number of suicides caused by guns in this country would save over 10,000 lives in one year alone!  At the current rate, it would take over 600 years for mass shootings to claim that many lives in this country.  President Obama, I implore you to consider re-framing the gun control debate in this country. Focus it on the most likely way, by far, for a gun to be involved in the death of an American. Focus the gun control debate, on the least talked about major cause of death in this country. Focus the gun control debate where it belongs and has the greatest potential to save the most lives.

President Obama, please, focus the gun control debate, on suicide.

To all Americans:

In closing, I’ll add that I’m convinced that suicide will not remain on the list of the top ten leading causes of death in America for much longer.  Me, and thousands of others like me, already personally touched by suicide, are committed to lowering  the suicide rate, and we are an unstoppable force, powered by love.  It is only a matter of time before we build the political will necessary for this country to take the collective action required to dramatically reduce the number of lives claimed by suicide.  I believe this relatively small group of thoughtful, committed citizens is about to cause a beautiful tipping point in this movement, but we need more Americans to join us in this fight to finally bring about the beginning of the end of suicide in America.  Please consider volunteering your time and energy or donating money to a suicide awareness and prevention non-profit.  Here are links to the websites of three major, national ones :

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

Active Minds

The Jed Foundation

Finally, I call on every American to either learn about or remind themselves about the warning signs of suicide and what to do about them if you see them within yourself or in someone you know.

Thank you for reading and please take the time to share this post.

Sincerely,
Francesco Bellafante
June 26, 2015

Update:  A question from a friend has prompted me to add a link for the scientific research into gun violence in this country, and a link to a recent piece from Slate.com.

For a collection of scholarly research articles on guns and suicide see the Harvard Injury Control Research Center.

For an article from Slate.com about gun violence in America from January of this year see ‘ and ‘ piece:  The Myth of the Good Guy With a Gun