Gun control is a family issue and a LGBT issue. More access to guns equals more suicides equals more dead LGBT kids. It’s that simple. Last week 42 Republicans and 4 Democrats defeated the most meaningful comprehensive bill on gun control in 20 years, despite 85% of the public supporting serious reform. Based on 2010 CDC stats, about 370 people have killed themselves with guns since that vote. About 80 of those are between ages 15-24. In one week. 80 Dead Young People.
The excellent Harvard School of Public Health Means Matter Project has found that means (ex: gun, hanging, pills, carbon monoxide, bridge jumps, etc.) along with seriousness of intent are the most important factors in whether a suicide is completed or not. About one in three gay youth attempt suicide and the rate is thought to be quite a bit higher (as high as 84%) for transgender or gender non-conforming (GNC) young people.
Adolescents are impulsive by nature and consequently many of their suicide attempts are not pre-meditated but in fact unplanned and related to same day crises. If a young person has access to a gun in the home, he or she is twice as likely to complete the suicide (source: Speakforthem.org). An NVISS study on the Characteristics of Victims of Suicide showed that of completed firearm suicides of youth under 17, 82% used a firearm belonging to a family member, usually a parent.
In the past fifteen years of clinical practice, every single lesbian, gay, bisexual and particularly transgender person with whom I’ve worked (with maybe no more than one or two exceptions) has reported feeling suicidal at some point during their adolescence. Some made attempts. Some did not. There are complicated, multi-variable reasons why some LGBT teens with horrific circumstances manage to survive and even thrive while others take their own lives. However, access to guns ensures that more LGBT young people will die. Many of those suicides will be impulsive and maybe the young person would have been stopped if he or she selected a less lethal method.
When I worked in residential treatment, I got a call that a fourteen year old lesbian client was trying to hang herself in her dorm. I ran over there in time to see her sitting on the bathtub moments after a staff member had removed the noose from around her neck. If she’d had access to a gun she’d be dead. No doubt in my mind. No time to get to her. No time to intervene. Instead, in the months that followed, she got the help she needed around her depression and support around affirming her sexual orientation.
We cannot continue to look to a corrupt Congress to protect our young people. It is our job as community members, clinicians, parents, teachers and simply compassionate human beings to circumvent an ineffective legislative process and make our own plan.
Here are a few suggestions on things we can do right now:
1. If you have kids, get guns out of your house. If you refuse to relinquish your guns, follow the guidelines set-forth by the Means Matter Project to decrease the likelihood children will have access (It has been shown that hiding guns typically doesn’t work).
2. Put pressure on friends and neighbors to get rid of guns. Do you ever ask the parent of your child’s friend if they have guns in the house before allowing your child to go there? This should become part of our parlance in the same breath as “Do you leave the kids unsupervised? Do you allow your kids to drink? What time do you imagine they’ll go to bed?” Perhaps gun ownership will go the way of the cigarette. It was once cool and now it’s looked down upon.
3. Work with local law enforcement and local businesses to sponsor “Turn in Your Gun” days. Some towns have offered cash for guns or businesses can also offer free or discounted meals or merchandise.
4. Lobby your school board to ensure that teacher’s have a basic understanding of what to look for in depressed students. Teachers have more contact with our young people than almost anyone and they can certainly help identify young people who may be at risk.
5. Work with schools to continue to create climates for LGBT students (and students that are outsiders) that are affirming and safe in order to decrease the sense of isolation and hopelessness that accompanies suicidality.
6. Be that adult that a young person can talk to. Studies show that having one trusted adult is a protective factor for at-risk kids.
7. It goes without saying to vote each and every one of these Senators out of office.