The discordant voices of pundits now blast from the pages of our newspapers and the screens of our TVs as our country tries to make sense of another mass shooting. Immediately, arguments about gun control fly back and forth across social media. Some argue for sensible gun control, saying that stricter laws will still allow folks to hunt game and defend themselves. Others argue that guns aren’t the problem.
But what if all the focus on mass shootings and the policy surrounding them is actually leading us astray from a more frequent and statistically more significant threat? What if, as Christians, we are overlooking a pertinent issue in considering how we should think about guns on an individual and national level?
When we talk about gun violence, the conversations usually center on self-protection, sensationalized stories and the horrific reality of mass shootings. And while those topics are an essential part of the conversation, we need to consider the biggest category of gun violence—and one that’s very personal to some of us—in our country: suicide.
The Counterintuitive Truth
Suicide is, by far, the largest category of gun violence in America. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a horrific 31,076 total firearm deaths occurred in 2010; of those deaths, 11,078 are attributable to homicide, which represents only 35% of all gun-related deaths. 19,392 suicides by firearms occurred in 2010, representing a chilling 62% of all gun deaths.
This means that the vast majority of gun deaths in America resulted from suicide and other types of violence, such as accidental deaths. And the number only seems to be increasing, as suicide deaths by firearms rose to 21,175 in 2013, representing 63% of all firearm deaths from that year. So it is evident that individuals use guns for suicide at a much higher rate than for homicide.
And lest we think that those without guns will just find another means of ending their own lives, which is certainly a possibility, the evidence is to the contrary. The New England Journal of Medicine found that “living in a home where there are guns increases the risk of homicide by 40 to 170% and suicide by 90 to 460%.” Obviously, this is a wide range, but the important point is that guns increase the risk of violence in the home, and other reputable peer-reviewed journals have published similar findings.
Another example is Washington, D.C., which has the lowest rate of youth suicide in the nation. This is credited to the fact that the district had a handgun ban for many decades (now repealed). “Statistics show that children and youth in states with gun laws weaker than the District’s are more likely to commit suicide with a gun than are children and youth in D.C. In fact, for the years 2000 through 2002, no child 16 years of age or younger in the District of Columbia was the victim of firearm suicide. In addition, there were no suicides by any other means by District youth in this age group.”
So, as Christians, when we think about gun ownership and gun policies, and when we think about the call to be peacemakers (Matt. 5:9) and our role to protect and provide for our families (1 Tim. 5:8), we shouldn’t ignore the relationship between gun violence and suicide. In order to live faithfully, we need to consider all the facts, basing our decisions and views on statistical realities and not just our own personal fears.
To be sure, stats don’t represent the whole picture. In this case, though, the numbers function as a helpful resource for constructing views and making practical decisions in light of a biblical worldview. This is especially true if we live in a home where someone struggles with anxiety, depression or another form of mental illness and as we think about others we know in these situations who have access to guns.
A Kingdom of Peace
The good news is that violence, caused by guns or anything else, will one day cease from the earth. In the meantime, God has declared us citizens of a new kingdom, and we live as ambassadors of that kingdom here on earth. Because of our immeasurable inheritance, we have a responsibility to push back the awful consequences of violence from whichever source it springs; this should be our posture.
And that may mean supporting policies that would take guns out of the hands of those most vulnerable to suicide. That may mean making a decision to not own a gun and entrusting our protection from outside threats to the Lord, if we or someone in our home is struggling with mental illness.
The issue of gun violence is complex, but know that our King, the Prince of Peace, is not confused. We can trust Him with our protection and provision, and we can trust that when He returns He will put an end to all violence, death and destruction. He will turn our weapons of war into means of cultivation: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore” (Isa. 2:4; Mic. 4:3). To that I say, Lord come quickly.