When I was a newby counselor a teenager who was loosely connected with the church through Young Life came to talk to me. His girlfriend had just broken up with him, and he was distraught. After some minutes of conversation I knew we needed to work through a suicide risk assessment:
- Are you thinking of hurting yourself? "Sometimes. I don't want to hurt anymore."
- How long/often have you thought of not hurting anymore? "Just since the breakup. And once freshman year when I was getting bullied. Not everyday. Just sometimes. I'm just so mad! Why'd she leave me?"
- Do you have a plan to hurt yourself? "Not really. My dad has some decorative swords that are really cool, but that might hurt. I'd probably use a gun. It'd be fast."
- Now my stomach is in knots but I'm trying to stay calm and supportive. Do you have access to a gun? "Sure. We have guns in the house."
I had a bad, bad feeling. I wrote a suicide contract, and he signed it and agreed not to hurt himself or others. He agreed to call me if he started thinking of hurting himself. He agreed to let me call his dad to pick him up. He did not want to go to the hospital and he was adamant against me calling the police. "I'm not going to do anything. I promise. I feel better just talking it out. I'll call you if I start to feel bad again."
I had a quick but serious conversation with his dad. His dad assured me he'd watch him, that he'd call a psychiatrist in the morning, that he had the guns put away.
We talked several times on the phone during the next week. He was doing better, he said. Getting over the girl. "Don't worry. I'm fine."
One week after our last conversation, after a Friday night football game during which he and the girl had an argument, he shot himself.
My boss and I offered crisis counseling to his Young Life group. We supported his dad through the funeral and its aftermath.
And I decided that so long as I had children in my home I would never, ever have a gun.
I have been called an "absolute fool" for supporting research into determining effective ways to reduce gun violence. I have been told to walk around "bad" parts of town and "see what happens". (I am not sure if my Christian brothers and sisters who are gun advocates are trying to wish me harm, but the fact is I used to work as a referral therapist for child protective services, and spent a considerable amount of time in "bad" parts of town, always unarmed.) I have been told to move to other countries where they have gun control and "see how I like it". (I am sure that I would like it fine. Other countries have their own issues, of course, but they also have far less gun violence. But that's not where God has called me to live just now. I try to bloom where I am planted.)
I understand the fear and paranoia behind this pro-gun defensiveness. Fear can easily hijack all rational thought. But the truth is, for every one self-defense shooting there are 22 accidental or suicidal or domestic violence shootings (Kellerman, Journal of Trauma, Injury, Infection and Critical Care; US Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.) Combat veterans belie the NRA mantra about "good guys" with guns; arguing that without serious discipline and training (see below), good guys would have absolutely no idea what to do in an active shooter situation. Gun violence, rather, is often the result of opportunistic and impulsive rage directed toward someone the shooter knows, and women and children are disproportionately the victims. When children successfully commit suicide, it is most likely via a gun in their home or their friend's home. The greater threat, the greater fear, is having an unsecured gun in one's home.
I also understand the second amendment. I am not "anti-gun". But I believe it is crucial for us as Americans, us as parents, us as world citizens to effectively define and implement the term "well-regulated militia." Well-regulated means disciplined. Disciplined indicates a high level of training, control, accountability and safety.
Maybe I am an absolute fool. But God uses the foolish things of this world to shame the wise, and I pray that is the case with me. And isn't it time we move beyond character assassinations and partisan, binary thinking? Isn't it time to dig deep and do the hard work of researching just how to implement well-regulated ways to protect our children?
I don't believe this is the job of the left or the right, of the president or of Congress - they are all too entrenched with gun lobby money. This is the job of moms and dads being just foolish enough to believe that we can change the world for our children.