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Welcome to the nexus of ethics, psychology, morality, philosophy and health care

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Guns, suicide prevention, and backwoods lifestyles

By Massad Ayoob
Backwoods Home Magazine
Originally published June 2015

Things to look for

Don't expect the warning signal to be as obvious as "Hey, I need a gun ... and one cartridge." When someone known to you as a non-gun owner asks to borrow a gun, quiz them as to why. Don't make it an accusing "Whaddaya want a deadly weapon for?" Instead, say something like, "Well, guns are tools. If you asked to borrow one of my tools, I'd ask you if you're going to cut boards or pound nails, because that would help me to decide whether to lend you a saw or a hammer. Different guns are for shooting different things. What do you need to shoot?" And take it from there.

An answer like, "I just need a gun!" is a red flag. More questioning — and analysis of answers — is indicated. In the NHFSC program, gun dealers are taught to ask, "Do you have a cleaning kit?" A "yes" answer is fairly copacetic. The cryptic "I won't be needing that" may be another red flag.

If a neighbor asked to borrow a chainsaw or your backhoe or something in between, one of your first questions would be, "How experienced are you with that equipment?" If the answer was anything from "It doesn't matter" to "None of your business," I doubt you'd be lending them that gear. The same must be true with a firearm! If the person requesting is someone you know or suspect has little or no knowledge of firearms operation and safety, invite them to a firearms safety session. If the answer is anything like "I don't need it" or "I don't have time for that," another red warning flag is flying.

You, the friend/relative/neighbor, have an advantage the person behind the gun shop counter does not: You know this person. Apply that knowledge to their request for a gun.

Have they been depressed lately? Gravely ill? Suffered the loss of a loved one, or a crushing economic reverse? Have they been recently dumped by a lover or spouse? I put the latter in italics for two reasons: It seems to be a particular trigger for the departure-from-life impulse, and it's associated with not just intent to commit suicide, but sometimes, intent to commit murder as well. All of these can be red flags.

When someone you know asks to borrow a lethal weapon, and it seems out of character for them to do so, be particularly alert for signs of "departure ritual." The person who has committed herself to leaving life behind will often put her affairs in order. The person who has been chronically tardy in paying bills suddenly brings all accounts up to date, for example. Conversely, in one case I worked, the individual burned all his bills in a ritual bonfire the night before he committed "suicide by cop," attacking police with a weapon and forcing a sergeant to shoot him to death.

The entire blog post is here.

Massad participated in an Ethics and Psychology podcast that can be found here.
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