Political Animal


January 19, 2013 12:06 PM Op-ed of the day: a depression sufferer begs, “Please take my gun away”

By Kathleen Geier

An op-ed in today’s New York Times by a former political speechwriter named Wendy Button takes on a subject I’ve pondered myself: the dangers guns pose to people who suffer from depression. Button is a woman who lives alone, and after a frightening break-in attempt, she considered buying a gun for protection. What stopped her is her own history of depression. She writes that, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 38,364 Americans committed suicide in 2010, and over half of them chose guns as their method.

Like Button, I am a woman who lives alone. Moreover, I live in an urban area, in an apartment complex where there have been break-ins. About a decade ago, I was a victim of a crime in my neighborhood — I was mugged and pepper-sprayed a few blocks from my home, and my purse was stolen. However, I’ve never considered getting a gun. Here’s why.

It’s not that I don’t worry about crime. It’s already happened to me once, and it does happen in my neighborhood with some regularity. As a woman, I am particularly vulnerable where crimes of sexual violence are concerned. And of course like everyone else, I want to be safe.

The Big Lie about guns is this: that they will keep you safe. But facts are facts, and actually, the opposite is true. Owning a gun will make you less safe. Consider the following data points:

— According to the CDC, having a gun in your home is associated with triple the risk of homicide and nearly fivefold the risk of suicide.

— The Harvard Injury Control Research Center (HICRC) has found that suicide attempts using a gun are far more likely to be fatal than such attempts using any other method. HICRC also reports that the availability of more guns is associated with more accidental deaths.

— A recent peer-reviewed study at the University of Pennsylvania found that people who have guns are 4.5 times more likely to be shot during an assault than those who don’t own firearms.

— Still think owning a gun might be a good idea, if you had decent training and maybe even some advance warning about what day a bad guy might show up at your doorstep? This video should make you think twice.

I don’t think it’s an accident that Wendy Button thought that a gun might solve her crime problem. The gun manufacturers and their lobbying arm, the NRA, are faced with a dilemma: gun ownership in America is declining (though there are more guns, there are actually fewer gun owners). In a desperate flop sweat as their old angry-white-dude consumer base dies out, the gun manufacturers are frantically trying to sell their product to a new audience. They’ve attempted to market guns to women, mostly by tacking on a lot of cheap pink crap.

But thankfully, most women are too smart and too rational to buy into this garbage. We don’t need pathetic penis substitutes to feel powerful or bolster our self-esteem.

If you do want to protect yourself against crime, here are some things you can do that are actually sane. First of all, of course, take the usual precautions — be aware of your surroundings, trust your instincts, avoid walking alone on deserted streets or after dark, that sort of thing. You may find a self-defense training useful. I took one when I volunteered for Girls Rock! Chicago, and it was very helpful — even, I daresay, empowering. To clear up a misperception: this sort of one-session training is a basic public safety training. If you want to go full-on martial arts, you can go that route as well, but that’s a much bigger investment of time and money.

My second piece of advice: if you’ve got the bucks, invest in an alarm system.

Third, if you can’t afford an alarm, or in addition to an alarm, get a big ol’ dog. This happens to be my own personal solution, btw. Hildy is a large Rottweiler mix straight from the Chicago city pound who is sweet as pie but also fiercely protective, and has a deep-throated bark that will scare the crap out of you if you don’t know her.

Why do I suggest an alarm, or a loud dog? Simple: as Adam Gopnik has written, most crime is opportunistic. You don’t need to have a terribly sophisticated alarm system or a trained attack dog — just something that’s annoying enough to give the criminal pause and make him move on the next joint.

Something else about a self-defense training, an alarm, or a dog — these things will all help you and, unlike a gun, they do not have the potential to be used against you. Also, they will make you feel better. Taking a self-defense training or martial arts course is a great way to get to know people. Dogs provide hours of exercise and fun and unlimited unconditional love, and they help connect you to other dog lovers in your community.

Guns, on the other hand, tend to make you paranoid. Studies show that high rates of gun ownership are associated with low levels of mutual trust and civic engagement.

There’s one more reason why I think women in particular need to be very wary of the strong-arm marketing tactics of the gun-manufacturers, and it goes back to the main point of Wendy Button’s op-ed. Women are approximately twice as likely as men to suffer from depression and related mood disorders. Since gun owners are nearly five times as likely to commit suicide as non-gun owners, that means that guns in the home pose a special risk for women, given our greater propensity to depression.

As I wrote earlier today, just last week I lost my friend, Aaron Swartz, to suicide. Aaron, who suffered from depression, didn’t choose to use a gun to end his life. But each year, thousands of Americans do. I’m convinced that many of those suicides could have been prevented if access to firearms were restricted.

On Tuesday, I attended Aaron’s funeral in Highland Park, Illinois. It left me deeply shaken. Many of us felt like we had our hearts ripped right out of us. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard so many adult men sobbing.

In some ways, those closest to Aaron may never get over the trauma of his death. I think all of us should do all we can to prevent similar deaths. One way to do this is to demand an end to the kind of unjust prosecution Aaron faced. But another would be to enact any kind of gun legislation that restricts access to guns and thus prevents desperate people from getting their hands on them. President Obama’s proposals are a welcome step in the right direction, and I applaud them.

Kathleen Geier is a writer and public policy researcher who lives in Chicago. She blogs at Inequality Matters. Find her on Twitter: @Kathy_Gee


  • David Martin on January 19, 2013 2:48 PM:

    I had a bout of depression when I was in my 20s. Later on, I allowed myself to have hunting rifles (bolt action; it's easy to keep the bolt away from the rest of the rifle in a hard-to-access spot), but never a pistol.

    Wendy Button's op-ed generated lots of comments, with a high percentage of yellow "Times pick" tabs. Several mentioned the writing-depression link, with jp citing William Styron's book, which I have, waiting to be read.

  • c u n d gulag on January 19, 2013 3:37 PM:

    I can't relate at all to the gun culture in this country.

    It must be sad, maybe even pathetic, that so many people are in some constant state of fear.
    I grew up in NYC, my family moved upstate NY when I was 11. When I was in HS, I used to go down to NYC to look for books and records, and to go to games, concerts, and museums. It took a few safe returns to get some of my HS friends to go to the city with me – they and their parents had bought that NY City was some kind of Alphabet and Numerical Jungle.

    I moved back to the city after College, and lived there for another decade.
    In all the time I live there, and in all the times I visited, whether in HS, or more recently, I alway knew that I, and the people around me, were possible targets for a mugging, or for a terrorist event.
    Every time I went to Grand Central Station, Penn Station, the Staten Island Ferry, a Yankee game, The Empire State Building, or the Twin Towers (the latter two, only to escort family or friends as tourists), or, pretty much any and every where, where it’s crowded – which is ALL of NYC, I knew someone could set-off a bomb, or start shooting.

    No one I knew was scared, no one was afraid, no one openly packed “heat.”
    We took precautions, which, if you live in a city, you’d know about. Everyone knew that, whatever was going to happen, was going to happen – and no one I knew even had a handgun, let alone carry one around with them everywhere they went.
    And sure, there were cops around, but a lot less than when Rudy was Mayor, and after 9/11.
    And sure, 9/11 happened – but not with guns – but with boxcutters.

    I can’t relate to living in the kind of paranoia and fear that makes people want to have guns at home, and guns wherever the go.
    I don’t think that’s much of a life.

    I WANT “Gun-free Zones.
    Being gun-free, to me, is normal.

    Going around, fully armed, or living in “Fort Apache – My House,” is NOT normal. Or, at least it wasn’t, until the NRA morphed from a gun safety organization, into the marketing arm for manufacturers of tools and equipment of mass murder.

    Want a gun or two to protect your house, or to hunt with, or to go to ranges and fire for fun? – have at it.
    But leave the rest of us in “Gun-free Zones,” where, if someone outside of the law is carrying, then they are breaking the law.
    I’d feel less safe, a hell of a lot less safe, thinking there were armed people all around me, with itchy trigger fingers, just waiting for their oppportunity to be some kind of ‘hero.’ I’d be fearful and paranoid, then, too.

    In the world of paranoia, the NRA is a carrier – an organization of “Bushmaster Mary’s,” if you will.
    Some people feel that they have a right to bear arms, any and every where.
    There are others, like me, who feel we have a right not to be exposed to your arms, any and every where.
    And guess what?
    WE’RE the majority.
    A SMALLER percentage of people own guns now, than 60 years ago. It’s just that that smaller percentage, own MORE guns than they did 60 years ago.
    The NRA has played those people, like a boredello piano. And those people willingly dance to the tunes, shelling out money for assault weapons, shells, and magazines. Those people have been grifted out of their money. Proving once again, “That fools and their money are soon parted.”

    Sorry if this was slightly off-topic.

    Back on topic - having a gun handy, makes thoughts of suicide, or a moment of murderous rage, much easier to act on.

  • Hannah on January 19, 2013 3:58 PM:

    Thoughtful column and responses, thank you.

    I agree with cund gulag about not wanting to live with guns all around me. For all the NRA & GOA harping on THEIR rights to own/carry firearms, what about MY rights to live in a gun-free society?

    As for self defense classes - good idea. And martial arts are fantastic. I studied TaiKwonDo for a few years and while we didn't stress self defense in the real world, what we did learn was applicable. In addition, I got into about the best shape of my life (flexibility & strength), became far more body aware, more balanced (I'm a klutz), plus improved mental focus. My ADHD son also studied TKD and it helped him tremendously, not just the above but his self esteem.

  • Anonymous Southern Male on January 19, 2013 4:00 PM:

    My wife has had quite a few hospitalizations for depression and anxiety over the years. In the last 10 years or so, we have been asked and warned regularly about guns in the house. Suicide is a real possibility for some people, as is homicide. And some people are accident prone too. So the little shotgun is no longer with us. I would have never had a handgun around - it's too risky. We've had cousins who have lost a child in a playing with the gun accident - the child died and so did the marriage. We've had neighbors shot and killed during domestic violence episodes. Known a young man who threatened his mother, then shot at the cops when they came to the house - it could have been a disaster. This is life in the rural South.

  • martin on January 19, 2013 4:03 PM:

    About 20 years ago during a particularly bad bout of depression, the three day waiting period saved my life.

    Though at this moment I would like to use one on Captcha.

  • POed Lib on January 19, 2013 4:07 PM:

    There's a good reason why gun owners are more likely to be shot - the gun makes them act stupid. The gun makes you think "I'll wait for the robber to look away, then pull out the piece", and then they get shot.

  • Celui on January 19, 2013 4:18 PM:

    Kathleen, this is an important article, well-written, and the commentaries are so very accurate. A handgun, or a long gun in the house is a ready invitation to disaster, especially to those who suffer from depression, PTSD, and poor anger management, or to those around them. Why would we elect to make these instruments of death so available to everyone? I"m for "Gun Free Lives".

  • Joe Friday on January 19, 2013 4:27 PM:

    Caught video the other day of the story about the state of Texas providing concealed carry gun courses for teachers. They were interviewing this teacher who was a young women standing there holding a pistol with the gun range in the background.

    She said, "Now I'm prepared in case I have to defend my students."

    This is exactly why you are 4.5 times more likely to get shot during an assault if you have a gun.

    This ridiculous false sense of confidence, after what is a joke so-called training, is deadly to the owner of the gun as well as all the innocent people around them.

  • Mimikatz on January 19, 2013 5:49 PM:

    So the life expectancy of people who live in a house with one or more firearms is lower than people living in homes without firearms? If this is in fact true, it ought to be publicized more, along with the other statistics in the post. I also read that gun violence against women in particular drops significantly when gun control and safety laws are enacted and enforced. Unfortunately, we don't have time for natural selection to work its magic

  • Joe Friday on January 19, 2013 7:02 PM:


    "So the life expectancy of people who live in a house with one or more firearms is lower than people living in homes without firearms? If this is in fact true, it ought to be publicized more"

    After the CDC starting collecting the data provided to them by emergency room physicians, the NRA lobbied Congress to cut the funding for the CDC to study gun deaths, and threatened more severe cuts if they did any sort of gun related studies or data collection.

    George Orwell would be proud: "Ignorance is Strength"

  • Hans on January 19, 2013 7:55 PM:

    I wish all of these depressed and very stupid people would do our nation a favor and just off themselves. Seriously, the world would be a much better place.

  • Abijah L. on January 19, 2013 8:04 PM:

    Hans, buddy, you need help. Seriously, that level of anger is not something that you need to live with. Treatment can help you feel better.

    Another advantage of a dog vs. a gun is that pet ownrship actually decreases the risk of suicide.

  • James M on January 19, 2013 9:35 PM:


    Another great post! If you have a regular blog please let me know. 3 comments:

    1. @c u n d gulag on January 19, 2013 3:37 PM:
    "I can't relate at all to the gun culture in this country.
    ...I WANT “Gun-free Zones.
    Being gun-free, to me, is normal."

    I agree completely.

    2. @Hannah on January 19, 2013 3:58 PM:
    "...As for self defense classes - good idea. And martial arts are fantastic. I studied TaiKwonDo for a few years and while we didn't stress self defense in the real world, what we did learn was applicable."

    Indeed. Studying the martial arts increases your awareness, making it easier to avoid dangerous situations. Also, the confidence you get makes you more secure and less apt to start or escalate confrontations.

    3. Concerning guns for home protection. Many years ago I read a great book titled something like, 'How to Protect Your Home, Your Family, and Yourself (not to be confused with the similarly titled 2010 book by Wayne LaPierre of the NRA). It was a comprehensive no-nonsense guide to home protection. One of the things the author stressed was that if you have a family, the only way to safely have a gun at home is to keep the gun unloaded in a secure location and keep the ammunition in a SEPARATE locked case.

    This means you will not have instant access to a loaded firearm, thus decreasing the gun's usefulness for home defense. If you live alone and are properly trained and physically and emotionally fit, it might make sense to keep an armed weapon in a readily accessible location at home (As long as you make sure it isn't also readily accessible to intruders...).

  • Gretchen on January 19, 2013 10:19 PM:

    My dad was a probation officer, and asked some of his burglar-probationers what would put them off trying to break into a house. The number one answer was a dog.

  • smartalek on January 20, 2013 3:32 AM:

    Hans, speaking as one of, and for, the not-too-bright, I gotta say, the technology looks a bit daunting.
    How do you properly size the ammo to the weapon?
    Which way does the safety have to be set?
    How can you ensure a clean and certain first-shot kill -- with none of the "hesitation marks" that could yield a slow, painful bleed-out, or worse, a failed attempt, and survival, possibly with brain-damage (you might have some 1st-hand knowledge of that, hmm?)?
    I mean, the last thing we'd want is to wind up as invalids, burdens on the productive "makers," the übermenschen in our society (such as yourself, no doubt -- with your handle, you gotta be Aryan).
    Why don't you show us how it's done?
    We'll all follow immediately, scout's honor.

  • James M on January 20, 2013 10:09 AM:

    On TPM,Josh Marshall is now posting a series of reader gun experience testimonials. I just remembered that I have one too. When I was an elementary student I was a 'Cookie Monster' and my mother used to hide cookies from my siblings and me.

    One Sunday(?) afternoon when my mother was out I had a cookie craving and starting searching for them in my mother's room (where she used to hide them). On that particular day I saw a box on top of a chest-of-drawers so I stood on a stool to look inside. Feeling sure there were cookies inside I opened it. Instead of cookies it turned out to be a 6 shooter revolver. Being much wiser as a kid than now, I just looked at it and closed the box. If I had picked it up - or done anything with it, my life might have turned out much differently.

  • Tollard Royal on January 20, 2013 8:14 PM:

    I’m a stable schizophrenic and I’m very glad it’s hard to get guns in Australia. During my last psychotic episode (hopefully my final as I now know I have to stay on the meds) I actively sought a means of ending my life. I failed twice with pills, and am extremely glad there’s no gun-show or private sale loophole here as I would definitely have considered it.

    There is good statistical evidence that the 1996 gun law reforms in Australia lowered the suicide rate. See eg Leigh and Neill (2010) in the American Law and Economics Review (50 page pdf): http://andrewleigh.org/pdf/GunBuyback_Panel.pdf

  • noplot on January 20, 2013 10:10 PM:

    When I was younger, one alarm company happened to sell not only alarms, but the stickers for the alarms as a separate item, and I've thought that might be a very cheap deterrent for criminals; even if you don't have an alarm, they don't know that and will think twice if they see a sticker.