On a morning in April of 2014, a Northern Virginia political activist and photographer named Drew Kleinbrink was facing a time of deep emotional crisis. He responded to that crisis by purchasing a gun. Within hours he had taken his own life with that gun, leaving behind a wife and daughter with a hole in their lives.
For many Americans, thoughts of gun violence typically turn towards horrific headlines ― the public acts of destruction that happen in our churches, in our schools, and in our nightclubs. And why wouldn’t they?
But the sad reality is that the majority of our nation’s shootings happen behind closed doors in homes across our country.
Every year over 20,000 Americans die from suicide with a firearm. The United States has one of the highest gun suicide rates of any developed nation.
One reason why we have such a high gun suicide rate is that we have loopholes in our laws that make it too easy for people in crisis to get their hands on a firearm. Through research, we know that commonsense laws can help reduce gun suicides and save lives.
In states that require a background check on all private handgun sales, there are 48 percent fewer firearm suicides. A basic background check has the power to deter suicide and prevent thousands of firearm deaths every year.
We must also do more to empower law enforcement, family and friends to help their loved ones during their times of need.
In most states, law enforcement are unable to remove firearms from people who exhibit dangerous or threatening behavior unless they are prohibited from owning a gun. This gap in our nation’s gun laws makes it difficult for families and law enforcement to keep guns away from people who are threatening violence against themselves or others.
In states that require a background check on all private handgun sales, there are 48 percent fewer firearm suicides.
Why should the people who are the first to see the signs of a person in crisis be rendered powerless to do anything about it?
It’s time for our leaders to come together and listen to our nation’s leading law enforcement experts to address our nation’s gun suicide epidemic.
We also think that in order to address our nation’s gun suicide crisis, it’s important for us to fully understand it.
Since 1996, at the behest of the gun lobby, the federal government has failed to fund any research into gun violence at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, our nation’s leading public health institution. Congress must renew federal research funding into the causes and costs of gun violence, and strategies to reduce it.
These ideas are not radical ― they are commonsense solutions. Solutions that help deter suicide from firearms.
Solutions that close the loopholes in our laws that make it difficult for families and law enforcement to keep guns away from people in crisis.
Solutions that allow the federal government to research and fully understand the scope of our nation’s gun suicide problem.
Solutions that will not only make our communities safer ― but will also save lives.
The few private researchers who study gun suicides have found that guns are the most lethal means of suicide, resulting in a death rate of over 85 percent.
They have also found that the decision to end one’s own life is often spontaneous and can be deterred by making it more difficult to access a firearm during a crisis.
That’s just what we know now. Imagine the changes we could see in 20 years, if we pass responsible policies that are proven to reduce gun suicides and provide funding for America’s best researchers to address this epidemic.
Imagine how many lives we might save.
Captain Mark Kelly is a Navy combat veteran, a retired NASA astronaut and the Co-Founder of Americans for Responsible Solutions.
Representative Don Beyer served two terms as Virginia’s Lieutenant Governor, and served as President Obama’s Ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein from 2009 to 2013. He represents Northern Virginia in Congress.