Guns and Suicide: An American Epidemic by Michael D. Anestis, Oxford University Press, US $29.95, Pp 184, February 2018, ISBN 978-0190675066
Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States. There were nearly 45,000 suicide deaths in this country in 2015. Suicide is substantially more common than homicide and has been for years. In fact, suicide occurs nearly twice as often as a homicide. But most people are unaware of these startling facts. They seem even less aware of the fact that the majority of gun deaths in the United States each year are suicide deaths. In Guns and Suicide, Michael D. Anestis says that suicide is almost entirely ignored within the discussion of guns in the United States. Most popular media stories and sound bites from politicians on the topic of guns are restricted to homicide or accidental deaths, without even a brief mention of suicide. The exclusion of suicide from the conversation on gun violence is so absolute that some gun rights advocates have argued vehemently that it is actually disingenuous to include suicide deaths in national gun death statistics.
Michael D. Anestis argues that our national discussion on gun violence is not only an emotional one but also a remarkably broad one, with a range of sub-issues that extends beyond the question of whether gun ownership should be an unalienable right. For instance, the debate often coheres around the types of guns and ammunition that should be available. Some have questioned whether individuals should be able to own assault rifles, high-capacity magazines, and armor-piercing bullets, while others have called into question how we should even define these items.
What is perhaps most remarkable about the ongoing discussion regarding guns is the strength of the beliefs on each side of such a wide divide. Michael D. Anestis says that there appears to be minimal flexibility and a near absence of middle ground. The argument does not center on small disagreements within a larger framework of shared principles but rather on strongly held convictions on points that are mutually incompatible. One side proposes that more “good guys with guns” is the only path to the reduction of gun violence while the other declares that only the absence of guns will prove a viable solution. One side proposes that any restriction on who owns a gun represents the first step on a slippery slope toward fascism. Indeed, this point is demonstrated quite clearly in the refusal among some politicians and gun rights activists to acknowledge the potential utility of restricting gun access to suspected terrorists on the no-fly list. The other side strongly advocates for universal background checks that extend to all private sales and gun shows.
Michael D. Anestis says that the real problem is suicide, but suicide will not be prevented simply by letting people know how often it happens and who it affects. Michael D. Anestis writes, “I like to see people expressing support for those affected by suicide, but posting videos of oneself on Facebook doing 22 pushups in support of veteran suicide prevention will not keep any struggling veterans alive. Efforts such as this are often less about preventing suicide. It is a show rather than a concerted effort to change a tragic outcome. This does not diminish the kindness that drives the behavior, but it certainly highlights the limited value of hollow and time-limited action.” Michael D. Anestis says that we need a suicide prevention movement that lasts year round and is relentless in its promotion of practical steps people can take to prevent suicide. We will never eliminate this problem entirely, but informed efforts toward suicide prevention, guided by science and a willingness to put personal agenda aside in the pursuit of saving lives, would make this country a better place.
In Guns and Suicide, Michael D. Anestis has tried to put the discourse on the gun rights in the United States on the right track. He convincingly shows that the rising number of suicides among young people is the direct result of guns in our homes. He powerfully argues that a ban on guns will go a long way to lower the number of suicides in the United States. Ironically, the question of suicides among the young people is absent from the discourse on the gun rights. Michael D. Anestis has tried to do exactly that. Guns and Suicide is a well-researched and well-argued book. It provides new perspectives on the question of gun rights in America.