Park­land sui­cides at­test to dan­gers of un­se­cured guns

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Opinion - Fred Grimm

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.

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