By Dave Carpenter
Reviewing the grimly fascinating fallout from Seung-Hui Cho’s Virginia Tech rampage and posthumous media spectre, I was particularly amazed by the Sunday New York Times’ colour-coded “info graphic,” illustrating how on average 81 Americans die each day from firearms.
The cold hard truth that so many of them turn the barrel toward themselves each day leapt from the page: of those 81 poor souls, 46 used a gun to take their own lives, making suicide the reason for most gun deaths in the U.S. (as it is in Canada, though overall we prefer to hang ourselves).
I can’t be the only evidently brainwashed Canuck taken aback by that number, given our abundant diet of American media, feeding us the idea that folks in the lower 48 much prefer to shoot people other than themselves. And if the bullet does happen to accidentally travel in the opposite direction, it’s certainly the tough luck result of little Timmy’s overdeveloped curiosity or a Vice President’s horrible aim.
Yet the Times‘ bullet-rainbow reveals that only five or fewer of the 81 die by accident. Thirty are murdered. The rest opt for self-imposed oblivion.
Especially white guys over 40, whose penchant for suicide-by-bullet has them accounting for over half of those who take their lives via firearm.
Maybe all aggressive, “gun-obsessed” male America needs is a prescription for Zoloft and someone who will listen?
Yet experts suggest that men remain generally resistant to the psychiatrist’s couch and prescription pad, no matter how lost in the woods of middle-age they are (the path grows even darker in their so-called golden years).
The root cause may be that quintessential male-ism that equates the open expression of deeply intimate emotions with verbal self-emasculation. Even if you can get a guy to lie on his back, it doesn’t mean he’s going to open up his yap and have all those nauseating, quiche-eating suicidal notions spill out all over the couch. This would seem especially true of older males, raised in the pre-Free to Be You and Me era, when the true measure of a man was his capacity to keep his lip zipped and chin up in the face of life’s shitstorms.
Further, when it comes to Americans offing themselves with guns, white males are just plain better at it. It doesn’t seem a very onerous task for any American to get their hands on a piece, but white men without criminal records have the easiest access to perfectly legal handguns and appear to be more willing than women to turn the barrel towards themselves.
The list goes on as to why aging men, or any of us, might feel compelled to take our own lives: child abuse, substance abuse, weather. (Literal darkness actually has less to do with suicide than you’d think; most people kill themselves in late spring rather than winter).
As with life, death by suicide often comes veiled in shades of grey, with any number of potential tragic clues left behind for grieving loved ones to sift through and wonder why.
Mr. Cho, on the other hand, left far too many answers.
Dave Carpenter lives in Toronto, is a senior editor for Yahoo!, and blogs at http://carpendium.wordpress.com/