COUNSELING & PSYCHOTHERAPY

Suicide By Gun Range: The Secret Epidemic – **Trigger Warning**

Trigger Warning:  Topics: Suicide, Gun Violence, Trauma, Tragedy.

Read With Caution.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-272-8255 (TALK)

Available 24 hrs. per day.

Please tell me, when will we invest in the lives of others? All of us? In all others? Regardless of race, religion, age, or personal orientation. How can suicide or drug addiction be a better alternative to living when YOU are on this planet? Or me for that matter. Suicide, like drug addiction has NO solution on the back side. None. It’s nothing more than the management of suffering, care-taking, abuse of the vulnerable, and the harboring of corruption. The solution is in prevention alone. The solution is zero.

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I am sitting here in my office. It’s been sometime since my line of work has left me skinned and raspberry raw. It’s pouring outside as well. It’s also Halloween. The night prior I received a call from a local Gun Store and Range. “Can you be here first thing in the morning, it’s happened again.” I know what she is referring to. This is nothing new. Someone killed themselves at a Gun Range and there are people in need. People whose lives will never be the same.

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I’ve just sat here staring at the blinking cursor of this word document for roughly 5 minutes, likely more, as if there’s a swarm of damp dust in my head that needs to settle. I feel sick. The kind of sick you’re supposed to feel, like when you drink too much. Like when you’re avoiding pain and flirting with an ulcer. Why am I holding back tears? I’m in the privacy of my own office, alone if not for the rain and the synthesized sounds of a middle-aged Trent Reznor. I want to go off. Dish out a piece of my mind. Give my opinion. Tell the world. Beg for a solution. Expose the epidemic. I want to do those things because I don’t want to just sit here and hurt. Hurt for the man that shot himself. Hurt for the people in his life. Hurt for the employees of the Gun Store. Hurt for the unsuspecting patrons. Hurt for the store owners. Hurt for myself. That’s what I don’t want to do. I’m the helper here. The fixer. I don’t ask for help. I don’t show wear and tear. You call me in the middle of the night and I show up. Of my last two cases, this most recent one is the haunting type.

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I do have a tiny pocket of close therapist friends that I can lean on. I have my own shrink. I have these things, and like my colleagues, I don’t use them enough. I know why I chose this profession. I am okay with that, but my specialties chose me. No day is free from unsuspecting people being subjected to utterly horrific things. Things that transcend novels, television and film. Things that transcend the imagination of art. Innocent people for crying out loud.

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A dad takes his teenage girls to the Gun Range for the first time. He wants to teach them gun safety. Not because he wants them to learn how to shoot, but because he wants his daughters to be prepared to encounter any horrible situation that he can dream of. Why? Because that’s what daddy’s do. I know, I’m a daddy too. A recently single mom on her lunch break. Widowed with her first and only child. Coming to terms with the fact that it is now her, and her alone, between the world and her new baby. Her self-defense options are limited. You can’t use pepper spray when you’re holding a baby and you have to be close and skilled to use a knife. She is scrambling for options. A grandfather with his grandchildren. Seeing if his old small rifle still works so he can pass it on to his grandchildren. They are just old enough and are excited to shoot it for the first time. Grandma is watching through the window, eyes like radishes, welling up with thanks and pride. Grandpa never thought he’d see this day.

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As for the Gun Store. There’s a few or more employees working. Some handling the retail aspect and some watching the range. Some armed and some unarmed. They range in ages and life experiences. They believe in the cause, and they’re a family. Training and safety is a big deal and there is this haunting awareness that at any time “something” could happen. There are little first aid kits scattered around and there are policies and procedures to follow, should “something” happen. “Something” like an accident. This is a place where guns are shot all day and night. Inevitably someone might graze themselves with gunfire from an accidental discharge, although the weapons trigger would argue that there is no such thing. This is rare though. Maybe someone decides to take the life of someone else. A homicide in the Gun Shop. Also very rare. Or maybe there’s a robbery. That could happen, I mean, it’s not impossible. Or maybe, someone purposely goes to a retail Gun Store and Shooting Range to kill themselves. To shoot themselves in the chest or in the head, or both. Yes, both. It takes nerve to commit an act of violence so graphic and intentional that it can be difficult to properly do. At any rate, it is this collection of people. Innocent and hard working. Customers. Employees. Owners. All trying to get through the day, so they can get through the week, so they can make it to the end of the month, so that a year of life can pass them by with little damage and a little progress. In this environment, in this bookmarked place in human history, they are merely prey. Lying in wait to be victimized by the most inexplicable, violent, sad, and understandable act upon oneself imaginable. Suicide.

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There are signs, and in retrospect they are many and they are clear. A man pulls up to a retail Gun Store and Range. It’s daytime. His car is freshly washed and he backs into a parking space careful to set the front wheels straight so there is no burden on the tow-truck operator. Car unlocked, keys on the seat. Stack of organized papers on the passenger side seat. Life insurance, retirement, any pertinent documents that might make the transition to life without him easier and more smooth. No note though. It’s just time to go. He walks into the range, friendly. He goes through the process of checking in. He’s never done this before. Never even held a gun before, out of fear. The young lady notes his lack of experience and suggests that she walk him through the loading, arming, and firing of the weapon. He agrees. After a brief lesson she offers him a target and ammo. He doesn’t quite understand. He just says that he will take any target and the smallest amount of ammo they sell. She of course feels that something isn’t right, but in America there are very strict rules for refusing service, and she is also no expert on human behavior. Plus, it’s just plain busy at the shop today. Off he goes…

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There are signs, and in retrospect, they are many and they are clear. It’s late, a couple of hours before closing. There are only two closing tonight and there’s only one group shooting on a private lane. It’s a good night. They’ll be out on-time. She is working the retail side; he is watching the range. She is armed, he is not. A van pulls up to the front door of the range and a man gets out, he’s middle aged. Seems like they all are. There’s a bright silver Uber sticker on the back of the van. It leaves as the man enters the retail lobby. He’s friendly, from out of state, and looks familiar. He’s been there once before, probably dropped off by Uber. She remembers now. He acted funny that time. Seemed preoccupied when he got there. Spent a little time on the range. Smoked outside, and then left frustrated. Her sudden recall of that visit was stark and alarming to some extent, but hey, people are different. Anyway, he rented a large caliber pistol. You get to shoot more at a range with small caliber pistols. That ammo is cheaper and there’s more of it. He gets his target and heads for the range forgetting his eye and ear protection. The young lady flags him down and he returns to grab his protective gear, reluctantly. Off he goes…

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218,000 Americans ended their lives using a firearm between 2006 and 2016 according to the Centers for Disease Control. We hear a lot about gun deaths in our country and the gun debate rages on. What is shocking, unknown, and ignored is that between 60 and 80 percent of all gun deaths are suicides, depending on which state the data is mined from. The overwhelming majority of those deaths are middle-aged men, like me. You know, middle-aged men, the butt of every joke in primetime television, commercials, and in pop-culture. Middle-aged men who rot on the other side of divorce. Middle-aged men who are abused, robbed, neglected, and fleeced of fatherhood, by the antiquated family court system. This goes without forgetting the other men. The younger men, who tend to be veterans. Tend to struggle with chemical dependency. This goes without forgetting the women of suicide as well. It’s all so unbelievably tragic. As men we make up 94-99% of work and war casualties (NIOSH/DOD). I could go on endlessly with staggering statistics, but I won’t. I can’t take it. I’m barely holding it together enough to write this piece. As a society we are burning through men at an alarming and epidemic rate. Men have become the cheap plastic water bottles of America. It’s no mystery why a man would walk into a retail Gun Range and take his own life and forever stain the lives of others in the process. No mystery at all.

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The average cost to owner of a suicide by firearm clean-up is between $3500-$5000. That cost is in addition to the non-monetary cost an incident like this causes those directly involved. What is an owner to do? There are some owners, and by some I mean not many at all, that will pay for counseling to be available for any staff involved. There are even some owners who will call out to a professional such as myself, to intercept the incident as close to its occurrence as possible, providing critical incident crisis mental health and follow-up to all involved with special attention given to the most vulnerable. It is an area of work I am passionate about and dedicated to fostering increased awareness. We have to do better.

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Suicide is a difficult topic because addressing it properly means confronting our own ideas of mortality, the fragility of life, and our own denial of our vulnerability to the ultimate solution. It may be uncomfortable to see suicide as problem solving behavior, but that is how the suicidal person sees it. Do I want to spend the rest of my life trying to solve a thousand problems or do I take just a moment and actually solve one? Suicidal people do not want to die, they just don’t know how to live. Through despair, depression, hopelessness, and soul crushing pain, a person may be convinced they are out of options, leading them to realize that they in fact have one option left. An option of absolute control. Then a rush of false hope. They imagine freeing themselves from their burdens. Freeing their loved ones from the burdens they cause by their very being. Sure, for the loved ones there is a short-term price to pay of pain and grief, but it’s a small price to pay for this freedom. The reality of course is very different. I work very closely with all aspects of suicide. These people are in a horrific cycle and it’s up to us, humanity, to break that cycle anywhere prior to the suicide attempt.

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I’m sure it is clear to you that I am stalling. I don’t want to finish. From sadness and hurt to focus and anger to acceptance and grief.

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Feeling confident in his preparation he enters the shooting stall trying not to forget his crash course in handgun use. She was sweet. He notices that there are people around but they are in stalls to the far left and right. This is a Gun Range, surely this happens all the time and they have procedures for this, no doubt. The car is parked properly and in order, along with all his vitals on the seat. He takes a look at the wall behind him and sees that the glass window meets the concrete slightly lower than his sternum. Worried about a stray bullet harming someone through the glass upon exit, he squats. Takes aim at his chest, he’s got kids that call him daddy and a wife that still thinks he’s handsome. He owes them a traditional funeral for the sake of their grieving. A final act of love. It is common to hear gunfire at a range; it is uncommon not to. A quick glance at the monitor is in order, only to see a man in an unusual non-shooting posture. That thought occurs at the same time the panicked exodus from the range occurs. Teenage girls who are women now and a father riddled with life altering guilt. A single mother who can only see her small child’s face as she flees for safety. A grandfather who previously had seen it all, and two young boys who are boys no more. An older man with a blue and yellow veterans hat rushes from a private stall to help the staff secure things and render aid. Some chaos, some control, all a living hell. Frozen by the register a young lady stands and her gaze moves from the monitor to her hands. She feels like an accomplice.

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He enters the stall stoically and hangs up his target. He remembers how to do it from the last time, when he lost his nerve. He’s got the place to himself, except the staff. Surely they’ve done this before. This place is prepared. He takes some practice shots. You can tell where on the target there was focused shooting and where there wasn’t. The staff of two is wrapping up the shift and thinking about how to close out their own personal day. Sometimes we can only be thankful for the uneventful days. Often it’s enough to just manage our own personal yokes and the drag of life behind us.  Hastily he takes aim. 85% of attempts with a firearm are successful(CDC), but in the case of this gentleman, only 50% of his attempt was. Some gunshots just sound random. I can’t explain this to you. Have you ever heard your phone ring and you knew who it was? It sounds like work. It sounds like a parent. It sounds like a lover. On the monitor was a man on all fours, searching for something. His sense of smell gone, his sense of sight gone, his sense of hearing gone, his sense of taste gone. Only his sense of touch and whatever life was left in him could finish this journey. Searching for the gun, slowly, frantically, methodically, and horrifically, on all fours. Life pouring out of him. I hate that I am writing this. I hate everything about this. Everything. All I can think of right now is that what we’re currently doing is not working. With whatever life is left in me, I am searching as well, and I’m doing it for him. I am doing it for you. I am doing it for me. He finds the gun and it’s over. 100% success. It’s over for him, but for these two young adults it’s just beginning. Working the scene in the aftermath I listened as one of the employees wondered what would have happened if that man was encountered between attempts. “I was armed,” she said trembling. “I had a gun too.”

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This happens too much. One loss of life to suicide is too many. If we don’t confront this head on and destigmatize the problem, it will continue to metastasize. I have worked and experienced every single angle of this epidemic. Personally as a child and as a young man. In the military. Working as a paramedic. Working in surgery. Working crisis mental health with the Red Cross and various counties. Working in the field of traumatic counseling and crisis intervention. Working with schools to prevent sadistic bullying. Working the dreadful results of effective bullying on a fragile generation. All this to say, that while I have been passionate about this and hardworking, it wasn’t until now that I have become enraged and awake at the severity of the problem, which I know now involves a largely sleeping society.

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For the love of all things in your life that you hold dear, be kind. Change your behavior online. Watch what you say. Stand-up to those that are harmful. Be self-aware. If you need some course correction, get help. Be available to those that are struggling and need help. If you know someone who is at risk for suicide because of their words or actions, get involved. You don’t have to be a professional to save a life. Take a risk. You helping will not be the one thing that pushes them over the suicidal threshold. I promise you. People always fall in the direction that they are leaning. We are all in this together. All of us. Every single person that has killed themselves at one point in their lives would have declared that thought an impossibility. We at least all have that in common.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-272-8255 (TALK)

Available 24 hrs. per day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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