The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


March 23, 2013

U.S. gun deaths shaped by race


Suicide is "absent from the discussion of gun policy," said Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research in Baltimore. "The availability of firearms does indeed increase the risk of suicide, but most people don't see it that way."

Opponents of gun control counter that some countries with high gun ownership rates, such as Israel, have few suicides and that countries such as Russia, where guns are scarce, have high rates of suicide. The reasoning is that determined people can find a way to kill themselves, although suicide experts say the prevalence of guns makes allows for impulse suicides that otherwise might not occur.

The most ardent advocate of gun rights, the National Rifle Association, casts the link between guns and suicide as something of a virtue. "Gun owners are notably self-reliant and exhibit a willingness to take definitive action when they believe it to be in their own self-interest," the NRA wrote in a fact sheet, called "Suicide and Firearms," on the website for the group's lobbying arm. "Such action may include ending their own life when the time is deemed appropriate."

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Janett Massolo, who is white, works at a suicide-prevention center in Reno, Nev. She provides training in suicide prevention and counsels families that have lost a member to suicide. She understands their grief — nearly 17 years ago her daughter Shannon killed herself.

Shannon was a 15-year-old high school student. Her behavior was sometimes erratic, but her mother put it down to teenage volatility. After Shannon's best friend shot herself to death, she told her mother that she was appalled. "How could anything get that bad?" she said.

Six months later, shortly before noon on a Saturday, Massolo told her daughter that she was running next door for a minute. Shannon said she was hopping into the shower. When Massolo returned to the house five minutes later, her daughter's body was on the floor in her parents' bedroom. At first, Massolo thought Shannon was searching for something under the bed. Then she saw the head wound.

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