If you were to Google the phrase “gun safety,” you’d be directed to a dozen or more websites that basically talk about the same thing. Keep the muzzle pointed away from anyone. Wear eye and ear protection. Keep guns away from children.
Most of what is talked about gun safety has to do with safely firing your gun. Less information focuses on owning a gun.
The information I read mostly relates to how best store your gun so accidents are avoided. The unfortunate reality is civilian guns are fired more in accidents and suicide attempts than in self-defense. Gun accidents are tragic and often preventable. Certainly, the gun safety literature that is available should be taken seriously.
There is, however, a piece frequently missing from these articles: mental health. We are unfortunately too familiar with gun violence in the news. In reading these articles, you will notice there is inevitably some mention of poor mental health. If we believe mental health is so intrinsically tied with gun violence, why isn’t there more information published about prevention?
The truth is mental health issues are not the cause of gun violence. Individuals with mental health disorders only contribute a negligible amount to the overall gun violence in the U.S. Equating mental health with gun violence only further contributes to the debilitating epidemic of mental health stigma.
With that said, a mental health crisis can be a risk factor for gun violence. Why? Not because people with mental health disorders are deranged but because mental health crises can interfere with rational thought. An individual in a depressive episode might have a more difficult time understanding the futility of suicide compared to when they are not in an episode. A manic individual may feel more adept at non-violent conflict resolution when out of the manic episode.
Gun ownership is a responsibility – one that goes beyond safely firing and storing your gun. Thousands of individuals with mental health disorders are also responsible gun owners. If you are a gun owner and struggle with mental health concerns, remember this safety tip: If you are in crisis, make sure a trusted individual has access to your gun so as to keep you from making a rash decision.
Kyle Horst, PhD. is a medical family therapist at St. Mary’s Family Medicine Residency where he helps individuals, couples and families heal. He is newly wed and a new resident to the Grand Valley. You might find him enjoying a good book and good Colorado brew.