Saturday, February 14, 2015

A Winding Path

Suicide rates in America are highest in states that have more guns. Coincidence?
It's a bit glib - not to mention fairly obvious click-bait - but, for all of that, it's at the heart of one of the primary arguments that we have about guns here in the United States. The Economist's deeper dive into Suicide in America is much more useful - it deals with a broader range of the causes of, and possible solutions to, suicide. But this simple graphic, that notes a correlation between the rate of gun ownership and the rate of suicide by state, plays into the Culture Wars, and thus is likely to drive more traffic.

From a Culture War standpoint, to have guns or not to have guns is a fairly central argument, but it's really about a broader question - what is self-determination worth? If we allow people to have control over their lives, a certain number of them will chose to end them at some point. So is the best answer to that to reduce the amount of control people have over their lives, when it comes to dangerous things in the home? Research shows us, according to the Economist, that there are other ways, like increased availability of anti-depressants and counseling. Regardless of what else we do, those are factors that will need to be looked into, if we're really serious about lowering the suicide rate. I don't have any firearms in my home, but I would still be concerned about leaving a suicidal person alone in it. There are a broad variety of things that a person can use as, to borrow from the Economist's headline writers, "A Means to an End." Focussing on one of them tends to mean that it's what actually under consideration.

Using arguments around the suicide rate as tactics in the politco-cultural skirmishing around firearms does the topic a disservice. If we're going to talk about suicide, let's talk about suicide. The Economist seeks to open that conversation, but the path it takes ensures that a number of people will become lost on their way to the forum.

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