A tormented Charleston lawyer -- evidently still agonizing over his small son's unexplained death three years ago -- reportedly began hallucinating in his fashionable South Hills home Monday and firing volleys from his numerous pistols. He staged a standoff with a police SWAT team, then officers said he shot himself in the head. He's expected to recover.
This sad episode illustrates another aspect of America's never-ending gun debate: the tragic number of Americans who use pistols to kill themselves.
Suicides have increased in recent years, and firearms are used in an alarming number of them, particularly among men.
A national map by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control shows suicide levels across the country between 2000 and 2006. The worst rates were found in Alaska and Western sectors, but also in parts of Kentucky, West Virginia, southern Oklahoma and northern Florida. Many West Virginia counties are shaded on the CDC map with the highest suicide rates -- above 13.65 deaths for every 100,000 people.
In 2009, the most recent year of complete data, the number of suicides passed the number of deaths from motor vehicle accidents, the CDC reports. Suicides have increased substantially among middle-aged adults, ages 35 to 64. Firearms remain the number-one method among men and a significant method among women.
Much of the gun-control debate involves keeping weapons out of the hands of people who commit crimes or people who are mentally unstable and may turn the guns on others. But there's also a significant public health crisis involving people who turn guns on themselves. The supply of cheap firearms in this country makes it too easy for anyone, in a moment of hopelessness or desperation, to end his or her life.
Despondent people who attempt suicide might not succeed with a rope, knife, sleeping pills or bridge jump -- thus they could recover and find brighter days. But pistols are extremely effective at killing, so hopeless folks who try with guns usually get no second chance.
America, and particularly West Virginia, should make it more difficult for guns to fall into the wrong hands -- while making it easier for people with mental health problems to get reliable, effective help.
Factors that help prevent suicide include social support, community connectedness and access to mental health care, according to the CDC. Efforts that reduce stigma and barriers to seeking help also make a difference.
Certain risk factors tend show up among middle-age adults. Solutions that help people overcome economic challenges, job loss, intimate partner problems or violence, stress of caregiver responsibilities, substance abuse, declining health and chronic health problems could save someone's life.
Depression usually is temporary. If no gun is handy during the worst time, there's hope for a return to a better life.