Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Limiting Gun Deaths: A Direct and Humane Approach (23 Jan. 2013)

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            In a column in The Washington Post in January of 2013, Eugene Robinson cited an important statistic: "Roughly 30,000 Americans will die by gunshot this year. About two-thirds will be suicides […]." Of those gun-death suicides, 80% will be White males, and a high proportion will be people over 65. So if a crucial public goal is bringing down gun deaths — and if "Nothing is off the table" — a major strategy should be reducing suicide by gun among the elderly, especially among my people, White males over age 65.

            One obvious thing that can be done is to make life a bit less despair-inducing for old people. Many of us get ourselves isolated and not only feel useless, condescended to, and occasionally invisible but are, socially speaking, pretty useless, condescended to, and literally overlooked. (On one occasion I was, so to speak, walked through by a well-to-do family in an upscale mall; on another, I stood at the "Consultation" window at a pharmacy for a significant time being ignored. In each case I finally said, rather loudly, "Hey! I exist!")

            Society generally could do a better job finding some uses for us old farts, functions someplace short of Soylent Green. And better public transportation would help us, and probably others: US roads would be safer with fewer old folk driving.

            Still, there are horrors flesh is heir to that neither societies nor loved ones can do much to ameliorate; so we would do well to consider the custom of Thomas More's rational and moral, but nonChristian, Utopians. The Utopians take excellent care of their sick, but if any Utopian

is taken with a torturing and lingering pain, so that there is no hope, either of recovery or ease, the priests and magistrates come and exhort them, that since they are now unable to go on with the business of life, are become a burden to themselves and to all about them, and they have really outlived themselves, they should […] choose […] to die, since they cannot live but in much misery: being assured, that if they thus deliver themselves from torture, or are willing that others should do it, they shall be happy after death.

The Utopians believe that terminal patients who follow the advice of the Utopian religious and civil authorities and end their suffering "behave not only reasonably, but in a manner consistent with religion and piety."

            Moreover, some of us might reasonably choose skipping the drawn-out-torture phase of dying and off ourselves earlier; and most Americans would prefer to avoid the more totalitarian aspects of Saint Thomas's Utopia, including death panels of "priests and magistrates" delivering exhortations. Guns are efficient for moving on with finality, but messy and dangerous to have around: youngsters of 40 or 50 can get hold of them, for one thing, plus handguns are currently a bit too handy for oldsters who might be just in a funk.

             If reducing gun deaths is a priority and we're serious about considering all possibilities, then well short of spending billions to make schools totally like prisons we should consider offering old people suicide options more elegant than blowing out our brains: suicide options that may come with objective counseling, by counselors willing to give an honest opinion: "Yeah, given your options, the next week or so would be a good time for you to die. Here's contact information for a large-animal veterinarian who makes house calls and helps with funeral arrangements. Have your family over; have a farewell party." Additionally, and better, suicide counsellors should be able to recommend places where people can actually get aid: affordable health care, transportation, a decent job, which means an America that offers affordable health care, social support, and jobs.

             So you, dear reader, think about it: not killing yourself or encouraging grandpa to kill himself (already!), but about gun deaths generally.

             School shootings and mass murders make the headlines, but what drives up the bodycounts is suicide combined with banal homicides. We cannot eliminate murder, but we can reduce the scale of murders. And we can make suicide less traumatic for survivors and for those near death anyway, for old people who rationally and with compassion for their loved ones, choose to die. 

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