Greg Gibson: Survivor Apocalypse – Part II

II – History

In 1978 my sister Wendy died, as we say, by her own hand, which had a revolver in it, which was pointed at her heart when she squeezed the trigger. (Women tend to go for the heart; men the head.) She purchased her gun at a pawn shop the day before her death – an unfortunate impulse shopping decision that would be just as easy today, in many states, as it was in Nashua, New Hampshire in 1978. Most people who survive a suicide attempt never try again. If she’d decided instead to hang herself she would have had only a 60% chance of success. Poison, 40%. Cutting, 2%. With a gun the chances of success rise to 90%. Though it’s not success, is it?

Fourteen years later, in December 1992, my eighteen-year-old son Galen was killed in a school shooting at Simon’s Rock College in western Massachusetts. He was the random victim of a disturbed fellow student who’d bought a used semi-automatic rifle at a local gun shop the afternoon of the shootings. The killer modified his gun to accept thirty-round magazines, which he’d ordered, using his mother’s credit card, along with 180 rounds of ammunition, from a mail order company in South Carolina. Purchases of the gun, the ammunition, and the aftermarket accessories were perfectly legal, and they’d be be just as legal now, in many states, as they were in 1992.

These events have given me the unusual perspective of having spent forty years closely watching nothing happen. Or, watching a lot happen, most of which involves people getting killed by guns and politicians doing nothing about it. Let us observe a moment of silence. Let us attend to the buzzing of flies.

2 thoughts on “Greg Gibson: Survivor Apocalypse – Part II

  1. Many times on this site I have read about how suicide is an impulsive thing. That certainly sounds true if someone has immediate access to a firearm like one in their own house or car. Otherwise it takes planning. Perhaps one can say the beginning of planning is an impulse but otherwise time passes from the start of planning until an actual suicide attempt. I think I have also read here about one of the larger groups who die by suicide are white men who live in the country. They also sound like the people more likely to own a firearm that makes a suicide attempt more likely to be fatal. Calls for background checks will have no influence on this group. But when people do not have a weapon at hand they need to plan. It is more than just impulse. Time passes.

    Quote from a web site on suicide:

    “Understanding Suicidal Ideation

    Learn About Suicidal Ideation

    …. Suicidal ideation, or suicidal thoughts are a lot more common than most people let on – in fact, most people have thought about suicide at one point or another. These thoughts are quite troubling, especially as they’re usually accompanied by a mental illness such as depression or bipolar disorder. Suicidal ideation is broken down into two forms: active and passive. Active suicidal ideation involves an existing wish to die accompanied by a plan for how to carry out the death. Passive suicidal ideation involves a desire to die, but without a specific plan for carrying out the death. Anyone who has or knows someone who has active suicidal ideation should call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately. This is a medical emergency.”


    I have often wondered if an approach to preventing suicides is to put an additional question on the 4473 form people fill out like “Do you plan on using this firearm to commit suicide in the next 5 years”. The reason for putting in the years is something I read many years ago so cannot remember the source. The writer said if someone thinks something is very wrong, it effects them personally and it will last forever they are candidates for suicide. The idea here with the question s get people to think about time frame as well as face them with the fact of what they think they are planning to do with no other option available.

    Someone who has knowledge of the question could answer the question negatively just like someone making a straw purchase but I predict more people who buy their first firearm with suicide in mind could be stopped in their tracks and perhaps the seller of the gun would become aware of their state of mind also and point at one of the suicide prevention signs in gun store we hear about and let the person quietly leave the store. (I don’t think we need gun sellers to become suicide counselors) A background check without a question like this on it will not have any impact to this subset of people who create suicide statistics since it is asking the wrong questions.

  2. Greg, I’m enjoying your book and share your frustration regarding the pace of change in this country.

    As for the issue of impulsivity in suicide, in many cases the period of risk is a few minutes to a few hours. Often, the presence of lethal methods at those times is critical. I present the evidence on page 85 of my Confronting Gun Violence in America.

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