Massachusetts panel on suicide shows major problems

Massachusetts panel on suicide shows major problems
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No one is ever going to mistake Massachusetts for a pro-gun state. It’s simply not likely to happen in our lifetime.

But one issue that impacts both pro-gun and anti-gun states is suicide. It’s a profound issue that we all need to rally together to address.


However, in Massachusetts, it seems they’re holding panels and folks are upset that pro-gun folks don’t like an anti-gun approach.

 Introducing a panel discussion on guns and suicide at Cape Cod Community College last Thursday, state Rep. Michael Day of Stoneham said that Massachusetts gun laws have been effective but are “obviously far from perfect.” The event was the first stop on a statewide “listening tour” Day has organized as part of a review of those laws.

Suicides account for 57 percent of all firearm deaths in Massachusetts, and 20 percent of suicides in the state are by firearm, according to the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence, a national nonprofit research project.

The state’s rate of suicide by firearm is among the lowest in the nation, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nationwide, firearms account for more than half of all suicide deaths.

Day declined to speculate on what specific changes in the law he was contemplating. But he told the Independent that “the mental health aspect is one of places that the Commonwealth needs to improve.” That is why he saw the subject as the right starting point for the tour, he said.

Now, why are we talking about gun laws when firearms account for just 20 percent of suicides in the state?


While 20 percent is a significant chunk of the total, it’s still pretty damn clear that guns aren’t the problem. If 80 percent of suicides are committed via other means, it seems obvious that the answer lies elsewhere.

I’m glad to see that Day acknowledges that the mental health aspect needs to be improved, but it still baffles me that he would argue that gun laws need to be changed as well when firearms are only used in a smaller percentage of total suicides.

In fact, it sure looks like successful mental health efforts would do wonders for the issue of suicide in the state.

Then we have this bit that really bothered me.

Barnstable Police Chief Matthew Sonnabend, one of the event’s four panelists, said there can be a disconnect between gun licensing authorities and the state Dept. of Mental Health.

During background checks, it is easy for an applicant’s mental health history to slip through the cracks, Sonnabend said. “If information doesn’t get reported, or if the person got treatment outside of their auspices, they wouldn’t know about it,” he said of the Dept. of Mental Health.

Yes, let’s continue to stigmatize mental health, barring people who seek help for their problems from buying guns. That’s a surefire way to encourage people to seek help when they need it.


So, someone who doesn’t want to lose his guns or his ability to buy them in the future might decide that there’s no upside to going and getting help. Or, at least, not enough of one to warrant the risk.

Look, there are people who are so disturbed that I get the inclination. But if you’re talking about suicides–and remember, they’re just 20 percent of the total in the state–then stripping gun rights from people who try to get help isn’t the best way to encourage people to seek help.

It’ll drive a lot of them to try to find their own way to deal, and since that usually doesn’t work all that well, it may actually cause more firearm suicides.

So yeah, this is a terrible idea on every level. For much better way of addressing the issue, check out Cam’s interview with the D.C. Project’s Kathleen Gilligan on today’s Cam & Co.

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