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Survivor Stories

I was just eight years old and, on that day, the world immediately became less safe to me

Almost fifty years ago, on what I thought was going to be a fun-filled, relaxing summer day, my father took his life by putting a gun to his head, leaving my mother to raise five children between five and 15 years of age. I was just eight years old and, on that day, the world immediately became less safe to me. While he fought in Burma in World War II, my father didn’t own a gun, that is, until he bought one for the purpose of ending his life. Years later, I joined the Navy and qualified as a marksman on an M16 machine gun. I know how to shoot. I’m not anti-gun, nor am I afraid of guns. 

But guns again impacted my life in a profound way when, in 2012, my 25-year-old son Peter followed his grandfather’s heartbreaking example and ended his life with a gun in a moment of despair. As was the case with my father’s suicide, the use of a gun gave my son little chance for survival. By all appearances, he was living a happy life, with a good job and a fiancee he intended to marry. We were unaware that he was troubled, or that he was on the verge of suicide.

The victims of suicide may not be “innocent” in the same way as homicide victims, but they are our loved ones whose lives mattered. They got lost in pain and darkness and did not want or know how to ask for help. They deserve our attention and compassion too.

I’ve had 50 years to think about the topic of gun suicide, and I’m no longer stunned nor shamed into silence. The way I see it, there’s evil in the world, and there’s good. Even if I only add one pebble to the side of good to the side of saving lives then that’s what I will strive to do. I want to bring both attention and compassion to this complex and frightening issue.

I have learned through this experience that when you stand up to take a position on curbing gun suicide, you open yourself up to criticism. But after suffering such profound losses, I’m impervious and no one can hurt me anymore. I hope I am able to strike a chord of compassion with others. Keeping others from learning these terrible lessons the hard way is really what compels me, and so many others, to continue this important work.

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