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
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.
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 Evan DeFilippis‘ and Devin Hughes‘ piece: The Myth of the Good Guy With a Gun