Wholly Healthy: Gun Safety Is Our Responsibility

Whatever one believes about the gun-control debate, everyone wants to improve firearms safety. However, while accidents from firearms make up a very small portion of gun deaths in America, suicides with firearms make up about 60 percent of gun deaths nationally.

I feel qualified to address this, since I have treated a fair number of gunshot wounds over my career. So what can we do to reduce firearms deaths — from accident, suicide and homicide? First of all, we can make sure that people who are unsafe to own firearms, can’t. This is partly a matter of effective legislation and law enforcement. But it also falls on family members and friends of people who own — or attempt to obtain — guns but who shouldn’t.

If you know that someone in your home is actively suicidal or dangerous to others, you should remove the firearms from your home. And if you are aware that they are attempting to purchase firearms or borrow them, you should report this to law enforcement and those who might sell or supply the gun. Many terrible tragedies could have been prevented in this way.

Those who are suicidally depressed or have violent tendencies due to mental health issues are in dire need of professional care. It’s merciful (to them and to their potential victims) to seek help for those people. Furthermore, when someone suggests using a firearm as a means to suicide, it’s considered a high-order threat and should be taken very seriously — young or old, male or female.

In addition, since transfers of firearms by inheritance or by gift are not generally subject to background checks, please be careful who will eventually inherit your weapons or receive a gun as a present from you. At age 12 or so, I received a 20-gauge shotgun from my folks. But then I wasn’t depressed, suicidal or violent. My parents knew my temperament. And they certainly didn’t give me free reign to carry it about without supervision. Be responsible, and be careful who gets those guns.

As Christians, we should be very attuned to depression and violent behavior in those we love. We should not avoid mental health care through some misplaced sense of stigma, or because it’s somehow “unchristian.” Depression and other potentially dangerous disorders of thought require very specialized care and, sometimes, a time of forced hospitalization (and the use of medications) for the sake of health, safety and a return to normalcy.

Finally, firearms should be stored safely in your home. A gun safe is a great way to keep them from both curious children, inexperienced adults and criminals. However, even without a safe, keeping the gun unloaded and applying a trigger-lock or some similar device will render it unusable.

We long for, and are promised, a kingdom where there is no danger. Until then, we should do all we can to make the world safer. And in the South, where guns are ubiquitous, treating them responsibly is a simple but important way to do just that.