Parkland suicides attest to dangers of unsecured guns
Rule One for parents of a depressed or traumatized teenager. Get rid of your damn guns.
South Florida has been forced to confront the specter of adolescent suicide this month after two young survivors of the Parkland massacre died within six days of one another. Both of self-inflicted gunshot wounds.
The community suffers these deaths as grievous wounds, sure that the enduring psychological horrors created by the mass murder of 17 of their classmates and teachers on Feb. 14, 2018, has induced two more fatalities.
Civic leaders, educators, mental health providers, physicians talk with fearful urgency about counseling and interventions and suicide prevention and therapy dogs and hotlines (211 in Broward). The Columbia Protocols – a series of specially tailored questions one might pose to a despairing and possibly self-destructive teenager – have been distributed to teachers, students, parents.
Yet the protocols fail to get at the crucial question in suicide prevention: the availability of firearms.
All the talk about alerting community institutions to warning signs in a kid’s demeanor may be helpful, but can we really expect people with only fleeting encounters with teenager gauge the depth and danger of his despondency. Surely, you’d think, parents who live in the same homes, who dine at the same tables, who interact with their children daily, ought to be the designated first responders in staving off teen suicide.
Yet, parents of vulnerable, at-risk teenagers, at least those parents who keep firearms in their homes, are shockingly oblivious to the looming risk of suicide – the second leading cause of death among American teens.
A study published in found that among adolescents who live in a home with firearms, 41 percent reported that they had easy access to those guns. Often unsecured and loaded. Here’s the stunner: the percentage was the same even among teens with a history of mental illness or with a history of suicide attempts.
You can only wonder: what the hell are these parent’s thinking?
(A similar question hangs over the nowdeceased adoptive mother of the confessed Parkland killer, an erratic and volatile adolescent whose serious personality disorders had been apparent since early childhood. Yet before her death in the fall of 2018, she allowed her perpetually troubled teenager to purchase an AR-15 assault rifle – perhaps the most tragic parenting miscalculation in Broward County history.)
The data linking firearm accessibility and adolescent suicides would seem irrefutable. An analysis by the federal Centers for Disease Control, published in the journal found that 38 percent of the
1,300 American children slain by guns each year were suicides. The Harvard School of Public Health, looking at firearm suicides among youths 17 and under, reported that
“82 percent used a firearm belonging to a family member, usually a parent.”
(The CDC report also stated, “Firearmrelated deaths are the third leading cause of death overall among U.S. children aged 1 to 17 years, surpassing the number of deaths from pediatric congenital anomalies, heart disease, influenza and/or pneumonia, chronic lower respiratory disease and cerebrovascular causes.” Which ought to make any parent re-think gun accessibility.)
A study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine (youth suicide surely comes under the auspices of preventative medicine) found: “For each 10 percentage-point increase in household gun ownership, the youth suicide rate increased by 26.9 percent.”
The same article reported that the “strongest single predictor of a state’s youth suicide rate is the prevalence of household gun ownership in that state.” Florida, of course, is a proud gunslinger state.
As Americans buy more and more guns, young people are killing themselves in ever increasing numbers. noted, “Youth suicide rates between 1999 and
2014 have tripled for 10- to-14-year-olds and increased by 50 percent for 15to-24-year-old youth.”
So much research links adolescent suicide to firearms. And not much data showing otherwise. Which must be why the NRA’s minions in the Florida legislature passed the infamous “Docs Versus Glocks” law in 2011, forbidding doctors — even pediatricians dealing with suicidal teens — from asking patients firearms in the home. A federal appeals court tossed the law in 2017.
Despite the NRA’s infamous efforts to stifle gun research, the science is overwhelming. If you have a moping, depressed adolescent at home, get firearms the hell out of the house. If your personal gun fetish cancels out familial concerns, at least invest in a gun safe. Believe the data. It could save your kid’s life.
Pediatrics, JAMA Psychiatry Pediatrics
Fred Grimm (@grimm_fred or [email protected]), a longtime resident of Fort Lauderdale, has worked as a journalist in South Florida since 1976.