I’ve owned guns. Growing up in America, guns were normal—a matter of fact. I got a BB gun as a kid, graduated to a .22, moved up to a shotgun. I watched “Gunsmoke,” and went to John Wayne movies. I never thought twice about guns.
When my battle with depression started as a young teenager, my dad took the guns out of our house, understanding that the proverbial “ounce of prevention” was a smart thing to do. I have no doubt that he saved my life.
When I left home, the pain from my depression became so intense that I could barely survive from day to day. All I could do was live ‘til morning. That’s as far as I could see, as long as I could endure. Thoughts of taking my life were present almost every hour. Not that I wanted to die. I wanted to live and be happy. I just didn’t want to exist in such terrible pain.
I bought a gun. It was easy, even for someone with a history of mental illness. In 2003, it’s still easy. As they say, “chose your weapon,” and my weapon of choice was a Colt Python .357 Magnum, with a 6” barrel. Powerful magnum handguns were popular and “sexy” in the ‘70s because of Clint Eastwood’s “Dirty Harry” movies. “Harry” used a Smith and Wesson Model 29 .44 Magnum, but anyone who could read a gun magazine knew that the best handgun made was the Colt Python.
I was hypnotized by it. I think a lot of men love guns. Machines. Things. We trust things. We can take things apart and fix them and modify them and understand them. It’s not the same with people or relationships. Many men never figure that out. We try to “fix” our relationships like we fix our Harleys, and end up feeling confused, angry and somehow betrayed when we fail. I think the reason there’s war is that men understand things and women understand the relationship between things.
We have a fascination with finely made machines, especially dangerous ones. Only two things ever thrilled me like that: guns and motorcycles. Both are beautiful and both can be deadly. The Colt Python is one of the most beautiful handguns ever made. And as a suicidal young man I loved its brutal gunmetal-blue sheen and walnut handgrips. Its cold efficiency. Like an expensive Nikon or Rolex, or the engine of a Ferrari, I was fascinated with its fine tolerances, its exact clearances, its handmade quality. Thrilled even with its oily cordite smell, and the colors of its shells: the brass casings, copper jacketing, gray lead, hollow-pointed bullets.
After the most terrible day or loneliest night, I could say to myself: “Well, this isn’t so bad. I can stand this, because whenever I want, I can whip out the Python, pull the trigger and that will be that.”
I loved the power it had, and I would just hold it, feel its deadly weight, hour after hour, for it could end my suffering in a single ear-shattering second.
This deadly power was potentially seductive in other ways. In the Old West, it was said that “God made all men, but it was Sam Colt that made them equal.” Unfortunately, possessing a weapon has sometimes been one of the ways powerless, weak, afraid, paranoid, bitter and just plain angry people have tried to “equalize” their lives, and I barely escaped this terrible lie.
And I hated the power it had. “Python” was an appropriate name for this monster. It was an inanimate piece of steel but it almost became a real, living creature in my apartment, in my life. It lived under my sweatshirts in the bottom drawer of my dresser and as the months went by, I looked at it and handled it less and less. At night I could almost hear it breathing. It was a deadly snake, coiled, ready to strike, patient, in no hurry. Like a land mine or a hand grenade, it could wait forever for someone to use its power.
Having it there so ready to be handled made it a real possibility that someday in some moment of weakness I would use its power on someone or myself. Luckily, in a moment of sanity, I got rid of it. That’s one of the reasons I’m still here today, why I’m not in the graveyard or the penitentiary.
As someone who has survived years of suicidal depression, and as someone who has lost many friends to this terrible disease—some who completed suicide with firearms—my advice to consumers and family members is this: get the guns out of the house, now, this minute. Call your local police department and learn how and where to bring them in to the proper authorities for disposal.
Sadly, there are many ways people in despair take their lives. Carbon monoxide and medications can, of course, be deadly, but a gun’s instant and terrible killing ability makes a moment of despair, or impulsiveness, or alcohol-enhanced loneliness that much more dangerous. It takes almost no thought, preparation or planning to whip out a gun and pull its trigger.
If guns-per-person made us safer, we’d have the most secure country on earth, but study after study shows that having a gun in the house puts you at more risk, not less. Having a gun, right there in the hall closet or the bedside nightstand, that you can use—sober or drunk, sane or crazy, trained or not, accidentally or on purpose—to instantly destroy a life, yours or someone else’s, is too much of a danger, too much of a temptation for someone in suicidal despair or alcoholic rage. Even if you are a sportsman, target shooter or hunter, what are these hobbies, what are these toys, compared to your life or the life of your loved one?
I’ll never own a gun again. If you or someone you love is struggling with mental illness or despair or alcoholism or feelings of meaninglessness, give them a better chance to “live ‘til morning.” Get rid of the guns.