I read “My Patient Was Suicidal, and His Stepfather Wouldn’t Remove the Family Gun Collection” by Zheala Kayyum in Scientific American and found a few flaws in her reasoning, her recommendations, and her narrative.
First and foremost, teen suicide is a serious problem in the United States. In 2017, 2,877 young people from age 13 to 19 took their own lives.
The suicide rate among white, non-Hispanic females is especially alarming. It has rocketed up more than 93% in ten years.
However, as is true of suicides among adults, a focus on guns, even guns in the household, is short-sighted. Guns were used in less than half of all teen suicides. Again, mirroring the characteristics of adult suicides, use of a firearm is most common among white, non-Hispanic males. Young women resort to a gun less than 25% of the time. Among them, suffocation (usually by hanging) is the preferred method. Hanging and poisoning by drug overdose are used in more than 68% of female teen suicides.
This is what makes red flag laws such a dubious concept. Even in states where they have been enacted, including California and Connecticut, the suicide rate continues to climb. If the goal is to reduce the incidence of suicide, the popular focus on guns doesn’t seem to be helping much.
Be that as it may, Dr. Kayyum has adopted the popular theme. So let’s poke some holes in it.
To begin with, instead of asking the stepfather to remove his firearms, why didn’t Dr. Kayyum simply ask how the guns were stored?
Teenagers are quite capable of getting past a number of firearm security devices but there are some that present a more formidable obstacle. These include biometric safes and combination safes. As long as the hinge is on the inside of the cabinet, it will resist efforts to jimmy the door.
In addition to safes or secure cabinets, guns that are infrequently used can be disabled by removing bolts, firing pins and other components and storing them in a separate location.
If a particular firearm is used for home protection, Dr. Kayyam could have suggested a separate biometric safe or that the stepfather simply keep the gun on his person and secure it in a quick-open safe at bedtime.
Instead of challenging the stepfather by asking him to make other arrangements to store firearms, a simple inquiry and a recommendation to seek out advice on safe firearm storage could have proven less confrontational and provided a more optimal response.
It’s worth noting that off-site storage of firearms can be difficult, especially in a state like Connecticut. In some states, storing the guns with a person outside of the immediate family would constitute a transfer and would involve background checks and quite possibly a transfer fee for every one. When the crisis had passed, reclaiming the guns would involve the same process and more fees.
This hassle would become a nationwide obstacle should the current federal background check legislation be enacted into law.
Storing the guns in a secure storage facility would avoid the transfer fees but would require the expense of month-to-month rental for a period that might last a couple of years or more until the stepson left home or had been successfully treated and counseled.
It is interesting to note that Dr. Kayyum said the young man who lived in with the gun-owning stepfather had attempted suicide. However, the method the youth chose for his attempt was not a firearm, but an overdose of lithium.
It might have been a good idea to ascertain why the young man chose this method. After all, according to Dr. Kayyum, he lived in a house full of guns. This might have actually yielded some useful insights.
Gun control fans are fond of pointing out the survival rates of those selecting other methods of suicide compared to guns. While it’s possible, and quite macabre, to think the person might be concerned about leaving a mess, one can’t help but wonder if at least some of these survivors chose their method with the hopes they would be found in time and rescued. Perhaps in the hope that someone would finally take their plight seriously. (I am not a mental health professional nor do I play one on TV. These are only speculations on my part.)
As to Dr. Kayyum’s attempt to link Alex’s situation to the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, I have to say it fails the reality test.
Adam Lanza didn’t steal his mother’s guns. He stole his mother’s car.
Lanza and his mother went shooting together and he had keys to the gun cabinet. In fact, according to some sources, several of the guns had been purchased by Nancy Lanza as gifts for Adam, including the Bushmaster rifle and at least one of the pistols.
So there really is no connection or correlation between the plight of Alex and the crimes of Adam.
If Dr. Kayyum wishes to counsel patients or patients’ families on this topic, she would be well-advised to learn more about it so she can make an informed recommendation.
[Note: A version of this article was sent to the editors of Scientific American.]