It was understood she was troubled. Troubled, beautiful and talented. She burst on the music scene as a young unknown at 18-years-old and her country music career exploded with her double platinum debut album, Ten Thousand Angels in 1996. Despite an awareness of her substance abuse issues and emotional fragility, her career held steady with the release of a second album, I Don’t Stay All Night (1997, certified gold), followed by 1999′s I’m Not So Tough (which didn’t do as well and led to her leaving the label). There was one last self-titled album, in 2002, and then it turned bad for good; became all about the drama. And during the up and down trajectory of her career there was lots of that; well-documented in the media as her music career sputtered in the wake of abusive boyfriends, drug problems, and strange scandals (an affair with baseball great Roger Clemens allegedly while she was underage; a 2010 stint on Dr. Drew’s Celebrity Rehab during which she had an on-air seizure). But it was always the emotional demons that had the stranglehold on the talented but tragic star.
In January of this year, the father of her second son and her most recent boyfriend, musician David Wilson, was found on the porch of their home dead from a gunshot wound. In one fell swoop McCready not only lost the man she says was her “soulmate,” but was devastated to discover that speculation was strong that she might have been involved in his death, a claim she adamantly denies. The case remains open as police continue to investigate, but within weeks of the shooting the target of their suspicion was no longer involved: After losing custody of her two sons shortly after Wilson’s death, McCready picked up a gun, went out to the very porch where Wilson ended his life, shot and killed her dog, then put the gun to her head and blew her brains out.
As horrifying as it was, her suicide seemed almost the unavoidable denouement of a woman hell-bent on self-destruction. One of the most heartbreaking facts of the story is that her death was not McCready’s first brush with suicide; she made several attempts before finally achieving her tragic goal. In 2005 she was found unconscious in a hotel lobby in an apparent attempt by overdose of drugs and alcohol. A few months later she tried again (while pregnant), with an overdose of antidepressants. In 2008, she was hospitalized with slashes on her wrists. Clearly this was a deeply troubled woman who needed a level of help she was either not getting or the help she was getting was ineffective. Perhaps there was no help that would have stopped her downhill slide, but one thing was clear: her final attempt relied on a method that would not “fail” her as previous methods had. Drugs, alcohol and razor blades could not compete with that most efficient of killers: a gun. And the last time Mindy McCready attempted suicide she finally got it “right”; she picked up a weapon that wouldn’t let her down. And it didn’t. [Source]
But this is not just a piece about Mindy McCready’s troubled life and tragic death. It’s part of a larger conversation that many feel is not happening enough or, certainly, loudly enough. The points were made in a recent Boston Globe article titled, The gun toll we’re ignoring: suicide – You wouldn’t know it from the national debate, but most American firearm deaths aren’t murder:
In 2010, the last year for which complete numbers are available, the number of gun deaths by suicide in the United States outnumbered homicides 19,392 to 11,078. If you add up all American gun deaths that year, including accidents, 3 out of 5 people who died from gunshot wounds took their own lives. Those figures are not an anomaly: With just a few exceptions, the majority of gun deaths in the United States have been self-inflicted every year since at least 1920. This is a startling fact, and one that forces us to realize that, no matter what we may believe about the Second Amendment, the debate over how to reduce the death toll from guns is, to a great extent, a debate about suicide prevention. [Emphasis added.]
The first question that follows is: Would that person be alive if a gun had not been so immediately available? Isn’t it logical to assume that if a person really wants to commit suicide, they will, however they achieve that end result? Not necessarily. This from The New York Times:
Firearms are a far more lethal means of suicide than other options. They are fatally effective in 85 percent of cases, while pill overdoses succeed only 2 percent of the time, according to the Harvard Injury Control Research Center.
Another Harvard study, from 2007, found that on average states with the highest firearms ownership rates suffered twice as many suicides as states with the lowest gun ownership. [Emphasis added.]
Another study on the matter of guns and suicide showed similar results. From The Boston Globe article referenced above:
The figures are stark. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, more people kill themselves with guns than with all other methods combined. One study found that in a group of adolescents in Pittsburgh who died by committing suicide, 72 percent lived in households with guns; among adolescents who attempted suicide but survived, that number was 37 percent. Another found that across the United States, people who committed suicide in a given year were 17 times as likely to have lived in homes with guns as people who did not. Another found that the 238,292 people in California who bought a gun in 1991 committed suicide at more than four times the rate of the general population. [… ]
Based on these and other similar studies, public health researchers have rallied around a striking conclusion: Merely having a gun in one’s home increases the likelihood that someone living there will commit suicide by a factor of two to ten, depending on age and how the gun is stored. [… Emphasis added.]
“When you ask people who’ve made attempts and survived,” [Harvard professor Matthew] Miller said, “even attempts that are life threatening and would have proved lethal [without emergency medical care], what they say is, ‘It was an impulsive act, and I’m glad that I’m alive.’”
“I’m glad that I’m alive.” Surely that is the response of many who’ve ultimately survived a suicide attempt. The use of a gun, however – with its power, accuracy, and devastating range of damage – precludes that possibility. Sadly, it is a sure thing, even when the decision might not be.
So while gun advocates love to refrain “guns don’t kill, people kill,” the facts are clear.
Can those facts also be extrapolated to murder? Is it possible that in many circumstances of murder, the number of deaths, even the fact of one death, might have been avoided if a gun was not the weapon in the hands of a disturbed, enraged, or mentally impaired individual? Certainly that question has been in high relief since the shocking shooting death of Reeva Steenkamp, the girlfriend of “Blade Runner,” Paralympian and South African golden boy, Oscar Pistorius. A man who most attested is someone they could not imagine committing such a heinous act seems, somehow, to have done just that. The case has become more complex with the discovery of a bloody cricket bat, but the fact remains that Ms. Steenkamp was shot four times. Pistorius was the only other person there and a gun he owns appears to have been the weapon. His family says he’d never been happier in his personal life, and yet, somehow, she was shot to death. The presence of a gun…
From a piece at The Guardian aptly titled Oscar Pistorius case shows that guns don’t belong at home: Stats prove that the person most likely to die from your weapon is you or someone you know. Your wife, your child, your partner:
There is a rule in screenwriting that if you introduce a gun into a scene, at some point you must use it. The rule applies to real life too. That’s how Reeva Steenkamp lost her life. A gun appeared in her story, and she got shot dead. Regardless of the circumstances, when guns are near people, they kill people.
Guns have no real place in our homes any more. The protection argument just doesn’t wash. While home invasion, rape and murder are scary, very real crimes; the murder of a loved one is just as likely when you own a gun. The stats continuously show that the most likely person to die from your gun is you or someone you know. Your children, your wife, your husband, your boyfriend, your girlfriend.
Certainly that appears to be the case with Oscar Pistorius.
At some point around the time of the Trayvon Martin case I was contacted by a reader, a talented musician and poet, who’d read a piece of mine on the topic of race and the Martin case, and with whom I exchanged correspondence involving his experiences as a black man, the father of a black son, living in America. We talked about guns and the prevalence of guns and their devastating impact on the country at large, in his community in particular, and he shared a particularly moving piece he’d written, which I’m sharing here with his permission; it pertains to this conversation:
I Almost Killed A Man
I almost killed a man.
He’s not dead because there was no gun.
However, I looked for one.
Still there was no gun.
Consumed with rage I searched the trunk for it.
I searched with intent for a gun I never owned.
I searched with intent to kill a man I’d never known.
I searched with intent.
I almost killed a man that cold night, because I thought what he did wasn’t right.
He’s not dead because there was no gun.
However, I looked for one.
Still there was no gun.
Guns don’t kill, people with guns do.
IF I had a trigger to pull I may have been a statistic too.
Rage consumed me.
For a time, I didn’t know me.
When I came to. No one could console me.
What had I almost done?
Aron Teo Lee, 12.17.12
It makes the point, doesn’t it?
Events such as the Pistorius murder case and the many other suicides- and murder-by-guns are being passionately discussed these days. But as time goes on we cannot become inured to the debate; we cannot become dulled or disinterested… at least until the next horrifying event occurs, as it surely will (Slate.com has a running piece called How Many People Have Been Killed by Guns Since Newtown? which, sadly, requires regular updating. It’s currently up to 1903.). We have to keep remembering; keep talking, writing, posting, arguing, agreeing until some kind of sane – better – gun legislation is passed.
As for suicide-by-gun, specifically; it is a topic that needs to be linked to our discussions about mental health, drug and alcohol intervention. It needs to be discussed within and amongst families whose members are troubled and emotionally fragile. It needs to be heeded and handled via crisis hotlines, outreach programs, and the mental health industries. And guns, final and fierce, need to be nowhere near a person teetering on the edge. How that is implemented will require the attention of those closest – family, spouse, close friends, co-workers – those who might have the best odds of seeing the pain and preempting the act.
Ultimately, someone as desperate and damaged as Mindy McCready might have killed herself some way, somehow. But if a gun had not been in her house that day when she was alone and utterly hopeless, if a gun was nowhere near, she would not have been able to put a bullet in her head. Whatever other method she might have turned to might have left her alive to, one more time, try; try to survive, get better, and heal to be the mother she wanted to be to her two sons. That gun gave her no possible chance to change her mind…later, when she might have thought, “I’m glad that I’m alive.”
See video of McCready singing, poignantly, “I’m Still Here”…