Preparing to die is surreal. I’m not sure how to even describe it. Imagine a dreamlike nightmare, something fantastically terrible. In some ways I felt like a marionette, watching my hands scribe the darkest words imaginable. I knew the choices I was making, yet it felt like my hands worked independent of my mind.
I knew my death would hurt my family and friends. They’d be shocked and even miserable for a while. But life does go on. They would be okay without me.
If you have never lived through the hell of sleepless nights, been strangled by the cold hands of anxiety, you can’t understand why someone would want to die. You can’t possibly get it if you’ve never heard that scream-whisper of depression that rarely backs down, or felt the sting of worthlessness, no matter how hard you work.
Almost four years later, I thank God my life did not end on that terrible night. But I also realize how lucky I was. I simply chose the right (or wrong) method of dying. If I had bought a gun instead of pills, I would be dead. Thank God I had time, after trying to die, for someone to intervene.
Those who use guns to kill themselves are not that lucky. A gun is once and done. There is no backing down. There is no wondering if the drugs will do their job. There is no belt that might break, or airbag that might deploy. It’s a click and…you’re gone. According to The Trace, when a firearm is used in a suicide attempt, there’s an 85 percent chance of it being successful.
Do you know that in Alabaster, Alabama, I can walk into the local gun shop and complete my purchase in a couple of minutes? All I need is a driver’s license or state-issued ID. Pass the call-in background check and you’re good to go.
No time to consider what I will do next. No reason to wait at all.
For desperate people, that is a quick path to relief. Even if someone has been diagnosed with mental illness for years, suicide is often an impulsive act. And the people who say someone cannot be talked out of attempting suicide are wrong. Dead wrong.
In countless cases that I know personally, if someone had intervened on their day of desperation, they might not have attempted. If someone had interrupted the suicidal person the day of their attempt, it could have changed everything. If there was just a 24-hour waiting period, even, it could change the course of a person’s life.
But at this point, in my town, there is no waiting.
I’m not against guns. I grew up with them. One of my earliest memories is of being “wowed” by my Grandpa’s collection of shotguns and rifles. My dad is an avid hunter and every fall and winter, we fill our freezer with the spoils of his hunting trips.
I’m not anti guns, but I am pro-safety. I remember taking my handgun and shotgun to my parents’ house when Lindsey was hospitalized with postpartum depression. I feared for her safety and I couldn’t imagine tiny baby boy growing up without a mom. In time, we brought them back to our house.
A year later, when I was released from the hospital after my suicide attempt, I remember noticing the guns were suddenly gone again. I felt humiliated, but somehow I knew it was the right decision. I was too fragile and unpredictable during that time. And I also knew just how loved I was. I was wanted.
The guns have never returned.
Around here, the popular saying is, “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” But hurting and desperate people with guns do kill themselves. Regularly.
According to the CDC:
According to an article by the Washington Post, in the 1993-1994 election cycle, the NRA spent $2.3 million. In the 2011-2012 election cycle, they spent $24.8 million. As long as the NRA owns the House and Senate, gun laws will not change.
But it’s time to do more than offer thoughts, prayers, and moments of silence. Something has to change or we are going to continue to lose fathers and mothers, pastors and teachers, children, and grandparents.
I’m not anti-guns. I’m anti-desperate people with guns.
Need to talk to someone? Call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
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Steve Austin is an author, speaker, and life coach who is passionate about helping overwhelmed people learn to catch their breath. He is the author of two Amazon bestsellers, "Catching Your Breath," and "From Pastor to a Psych Ward." Steve lives with his wife and two children in Birmingham, Alabama.
It’s Time for the Church to Confront Mental Health (via USA Today)
On Faith, Fear, and American Politics
Exploring Grief: A Podcast Series (with Brandon Carleton)
Suicide: Let’s Talk about It (podcast)
Pastors and Suicide: How Do We Keep this From Happening Again?
Podcast: When You Feel Like You Can’t Go On
Suicide Survivors: 7 Things to do the Day After You Leave the Psych Ward
Living with Depression & Anxiety: 7 Coping Strategies that Work (e-book)