Tag Archives: Suicide

Gun Lit: My Mother Contemplating Her Gun

Revolver by Pearson Scott Foresman

Illustration by Pearson Scott Foresman

Today’s Poem of the Day from the Poetry Foundation has remained in my mind since it appeared in my inbox this morning.

Nick Flynn’s “My Mother Contemplating Her Gun” evokes some powerful and pertinent impressions of the role of firearms in our lives — guns as objects to be feared and to ward off fear, the marvel that such a small thing as a bullet can unmake a person.

And there’s something else here, too, that I can’t quite name but continues to resonate. Something to do with agency and mortality. I’ll have to mull it over.

My Mother Contemplating Her Gun
By Nick Flynn

One boyfriend said to keep the bullets

locked in a different room.
                                    Another urged
            clean it
or it could explode. Larry
thought I should keep it loaded
under my bed,
                     you never know.
            I bought it
when I didn’t feel safe. The barrel
                         is oily,
             reflective, the steel
pure, pulled from a hole
                      in West Virginia. It
could have been cast into anything, nails
along the carpenter’s lip, the ladder
to balance the train. Look at this, one
                        how almost nothing it is—
             saltpeter   sulphur   lead   Hell
burns sulphur, a smell like this.
                        safety & hammer, barrel & grip
             I don’t know what I believe.
I remember the woods behind my father’s house
          horses beside the quarry
stolen cars lost in the deepest wells,
the water below
            an ink waiting to fill me.
                      Outside a towel hangs from a cold line
            a sheet of iron in the sky
            roses painted on it, blue roses.
Tomorrow it will still be there.

“My Mother Contemplating Her Gun” © 2000 Nick Flynn. Reprinted from Some Ether with the permission of Graywolf Press, St Paul, Minnesota. Source: Some Ether (Graywolf Press, 2000). via Poetry Foundation

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Guns and suicide

via Atlantic Cities 2013-05-08

Chart via The Atlantic Cities

Last week in The Atlantic Cities, Richard Florida (he of The Rise of the Creative Class) wrote about the connection between firearms, place, and America’s Surging Suicide Rate:

The close connection between gun ownership and suicide has indeed been documented in several detailed state-level studies. A Harvard School of Public Health study found gun ownership to be the overriding factor in accounting for state-by-state differences in suicide after controlling for mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse, and other factors. A website for a Harvard suicide-prevention campaign explains: “The higher suicide rates result from higher firearm suicides; the non-firearm suicide rate is about equal across states.” The Harvard School of Public Health News, which summarized the main findings of the study, notes that “in states where guns were prevalent—as in Wyoming, where 63 percent of households reported owning guns—rates of suicide were higher. The inverse was also true: where gun ownership was less common, suicide rates were also lower.”

This type of argument — that the ease and availability of means of committing suicide leads to an increased number of suicides — always reminds me of the curious case of coal gas in the UK. In the 1950’s and 60’s, the change from coal gas (which has a high CO2 level toxic to humans) to natural gas (which contains virtually no CO2) lead to a dramatic decrease in the overall suicide rate. Norman Kreitman, author of The Coal Gas Study, marveled at

how the removal of a single agent of self-destruction can have had such far-reaching consequences. There is no shortage of exits from this life; it would seem that anyone bent on self-destruction must eventually succeed, yet it is also quite possible, given the ambivalence (or multivalence) of many suicides, that a failed attempt serves as a catharsis leading to profound psychological change. For others it may be that the scenario of suicide specifies the use of a particular method, and that if this is not available actual suicide is then less likely. Virtually nothing is known about such questions.

I can’t help but draw a parallel with the firearms-and-suicide problem in the US and neither could The New York Times. Even something as simple as keeping the gun locked away in a place separated from its ammunition might erect a sufficient barrier to deter some suicides.

I first learned of this study and the profound interplay of environment/ability on suicide rates from Stephen Fry’s BBC documentary “The Secret Life Of The Manic Depressive.” It includes a fascinating interview with Carrie Fisher. Worth a Watch.

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