Guns and Isolated Young Men (Part 3/3)

© 2013 By Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.

In my first blog on this subject (April 5, 2013) I mentioned three issues to consider when addressing a social problem – in this case mass shootings. The first issue was to avoid “all-or-nothing thinking” in searching for solutions. The second, discussed in my blog of April 9th, was to focus on problem solving, not defensive reacting. In this third blog of three, I look at the issue of: C) Looking at the experience or research of others.

Part of the debate about guns is the idea that guns protect people. “The best way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” says the NRA (National Rifle Association). Is this true? If there’s gun control reducing the presence of guns, will we all become more vulnerable to the fewer people who have them. While I agree with gun advocates that it’s a bad idea to post signs that say “gun free zone” – because it only emboldens those who may be considering using a gun against defenseless people – I don’t agree that actually having fewer guns circulating in society will make us less safe.

So if we look at the research, let’s look at what happened in Australia a few years ago.

In Australia, in 1996, they passed a very strong mandatory gun buy-back law after a mass shooting, which significantly reduced the general availability of guns. As reported in the Daily Beast on January 17, 2013:

there is a wide consensus that our 1996 reforms not only reduced the gun-related homicide rate, but also the suicide rate. The Australian Institute of Criminology found that gun-related murders and suicides fell sharply after 1996. The American Journal of Law and Economics found that our gun buyback scheme cut firearm suicides by 74 percent. In the 18 years before the 1996 reforms, Australia suffered 13 gun massacres — each with more than four victims — causing a total of 102 deaths. There has not been a single massacre in that category since 1996.


Of particular interest to me is the reduction in suicides. Remember, I believe that young men ages 15-25 are a high risk factor for these types of mass shooting, especially if they have a mental health problem, such as depression, schizophrenia and/or a personality disorder. Why is this such an important factor?

In the past 60 years, the suicide rate has quadrupled for males 15 to 24 years old, and has doubled for females of the same age (CDC, 2002).

In 2005, suicide ranked as the third leading cause of death for young people (ages 15-19 and 15-24); only accidents and homicides occurred more frequently.

Firearms remain the most commonly used suicide method among youth, accounting for 49% of all completed suicides.

Research has shown that the access to and the availability of firearms is a significant factor in observed increases in rates of youth suicide. Guns in the home are deadly to its occupants!

American Association of Suicidology website, citing United States Centers for Disease Control data, April 12, 2013.

Also, citing more recent CDC data in 2012:

Teen suicide is a growing problem, a new study shows.

Nearly 1 in 6 high school students has seriously considered suicide, and 1 in 12 has attempted it, according to the semi-annual survey on youth risk behavior published Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Overall, the suicide rate among teens has climbed in the past few years, from 6.3% in 2009 to 7.8% in 2011, numbers which reflect the trend gaining national attention as more teen suicides are reported as a result of bullying.

(New York Daily News, Meghan Neal, June 9, 2012)

So can we compare Australia and the United States? Our cultures are pretty similar and our cultural media are pretty similar. (Where to you think the idea came from for American Idol: We copied Australia! Where did Rupert Murdoch come from: Australia!). We both have lots of access to violent video games and sensational reporting of mass violence. We both have young men 15-25 still developing their social identities, with their brains not fully developed until about age 25. From other studies I’ve seen, their young men are having similar problems to ours today with identity, substance abuse and interpersonal violence. Yet with this one variable – drastically reducing the presence of guns – they have drastically reduced both individual suicides and mass shootings.

If a depressed, suicidal, narcissistic, possibly schizophrenic young man has a gun handy, who knows what momentary impulse may overtake him to harm himself – and others! Without easy access to guns, suicide becomes a lot more difficult and messy. If a mentally unstable young man (like the Sandy Hook shooter, the Gabby Giffords shooter, the Colorado theater shooter, the Columbine shooters and many others) with a fantasy of suicidal fame didn’t have easy access to assault weapons, would our suicide and mass murder rate decrease like that in Australia? If we can change any of the factors affecting today’s young men, we may make a huge difference. If we want to try research-based methods for setting national policy, instead of unsupported catchy phrases, Australia’s example could be a good place to start.

Bill Eddy is a lawyer, therapist, and mediator. He is the co-founder and Training Director of the High Conflict Institute, a training and consultation firm that trains professionals to deal with high conflict people and situations. He is the author of several books and methods for handling high conflict personalities and high conflict disputes with the most difficult people.

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