Kathy

None of you will know what was in the news on Friday, November 5, 1982.

There was the “record one-day surge in the Dow Jones average” (a 43 point gain two days earlier was still making the papers, since the Dow had surpassed 1000). The unemployment rate had risen to 10.4% and nearly 12 million folks were out of work. There was news that an ailing Social Security trust fund needed to borrow $1 billion (real money back then) to pay beneficiaries. And a poll indicated “only 35 percent of the electorate” wanted to see Ronald Reagan reelected as President (he would win in a landslide two years later).

That was the national news, which doesn’t seem that much different from what is making news today. And if you take the time to read the following from the November 5, 1982, edition of  The Fort Scott (Kansas) Tribune, you will see that the local news hasn’t changed all that much either:

kathy morettiFort Scott, Kansas, is where I was born and where I grew up. I was living there in 1982, when Kathy Moretti, then my sister-in-law, took her own life with a pistol.

Recently, a commenter sent me a link to an article that summarized “the scientific literature on the health risks and benefits of having a gun in the home for the gun owner and his/her family.” Among other things, the study found:

…there is no credible evidence of a deterrent effect of firearms or that a gun in the home reduces the likelihood or severity of injury during an altercation or break-in.

No credible evidence of a deterrent effect of firearms,” the study found. That contradicts the NRA-propagated idea that people are safer with guns in their homes. In fact, the study found “that gun accidents are most likely to occur in homes with guns,” and that,

There is compelling evidence that a gun in the home is a risk factor for intimidation and for killing women in their homes.

That’s not really surprising is it? Men intimidating women with guns? Having more guns around doesn’t make women safer and no one in their right mind would so argue, even though we see people who are supposed to be in their right minds arguing it all the time.

But none of that is what I want to focus on from the study. It’s this:

The evidence is overwhelming for the fact that a gun in the home is a risk factor for completed suicide…

Completed suicide. Because of Kathy Moretti I know what that means.  She was a sweet and fragile soul, all 100 pounds of her. She wouldn’t have harmed a tick. She did not own a gun, nor was there one in her mother’s home, where she lived. In fact, I doubt if she had ever seen with her eyes a real gun before 1982, let alone held one in her hands.

But this depressed young woman got her hands on a gun at the home of her  brother. It wasn’t his gun. He had borrowed it to use as part of a Halloween costume—a cowboy—and had not yet returned it when his sister came to visit. There was no reason for him to think the ammo-less gun posed any danger to anyone, especially Kathy.

She had to go purchase bullets for the gun to make it work, to make it kill. And that she was able to do because people who sell bullets to hurting, depressed women aren’t in the business of asking questions. They are in the business of making money selling guns and ammo. The relatively tiny profit made off a box of .22 bullets sold to her sometime before November 5, 1982, is essentially why the NRA exists these days, it’s why that organization spends so much money buying politicians.

There isn’t a robust effort in this country to repeal the Second Amendment, which the Supreme Court has now applied to all jurisdictions. There isn’t even a robust effort to significantly curb gun possession. Thus, the main reason the NRA lives on is to promote the interests of gun and ammo manufacturers. Journalists who put Wayne LaPierre and other NRA spokesman on television or quote them in print should stop pretending otherwise and stop allowing the gun industry to disproportionately shape public opinion.

Kathy Moretti brought the gun and the bullets “north of a box car in a field about a quarter of a mile south of low-water bridge at Pavey’s Ford, between old and new Highway 54 on a gravel road.” There, in what I will always believe was only temporary misery that would some day pass, she died, with the gun and the bullets at her side, the gun and the bullets that the NRA insists are innocent pieces of this tragedy.

“Guns don’t kill people,” we are told. “People kill people.”

Oh, yeah? Again, science tells us that,

The evidence is overwhelming for the fact that a gun in the home is a risk factor for completed suicide…

The gun—the gun—is a risk factor. And the bullets that go in the gun. There’s no doubt in my mind that Kathy Moretti would be alive today had there not been a gun in her unsuspecting and subsequently heartbroken brother’s home in November of 1982. And by now, she may have had kids, even grandkids, if it were just slightly more difficult for someone to get bullets for guns they don’t own. Who knows?

But what we do know is that handguns, despite what the shills for gun manufacturers tell us, don’t really make most of us safer. Oh, they give us the illusion of safety, that’s for sure. They allow us to fantasize that should someone enter our home with evil intent, we are ready to protect ourselves, ready for a fight. That fantasy is comforting, which is why so many people are willing to keep a handgun at the ready.

The truth, though, is that we can actually measure the relative safeness of guns in the home, particularly for those going through tough emotional times. From the study I have been referencing:

From 2003 to 2007, an average of 46 Americans committed suicide with guns each day. This includes 2 teenagers (aged 15–19) and 3.5 young adults (aged 20–24) per day. Even though suicide attempts with guns are infrequent, more Americans kill themselves with guns than with all other methods combined. That is because among methods commonly used in suicide attempts, firearms are the most lethal.

Firearms are the most lethal.” Most lethal. Most lethal. The coroner said Kathy Moretti “died in less than five minutes.” That is most lethal.

And for what? Why did she choose to die? Why did she make such a lamentable and irrevocable decision at 22 years old? I don’t know. Nobody knows. As I said, she suffered from what I believed then and believe more strongly now was only “temporary misery,” something bound to pass. From the study:

Many suicides appear to be impulsive acts. Individuals who take their own lives often do so when confronting a severe but temporary crisis. In a study of self-inflicted gunshot wounds, which would have been fatal without emergency treatment, none of the 30 attempters had written a suicide note, and more than half reported having suicidal thoughts for less than 24 hours. In 2 years of follow-up, none of the 30 attempted suicide again. Other studies that have followed survivors of serious suicide attempts find that fewer than 10% typically go on to kill themselves.

Suicidal individuals are often ambivalent about killing themselves. One expert estimates that no more than 10% to 15% of these individuals display an unbreakable determination to kill themselves. For the rest, the risk period is transient. Reducing the availability of commonly used and lethal instruments during this period can prevent suicide. Psychiatric and penal institutions have long recognized the importance of restricting access to lethal means of suicide for newly admitted and potentially suicidal inmates.

I don’t expect that any Second Amendment zealot, who might take the time to read the story of Kathy Moretti, will have an epiphany. I don’t expect them to suddenly recognize as legitimate the other side of the gun argument, a side that always swims against the tide of opinion ginned up by gun-industry money, that argues for gun sanity in an America awash in guns, an America ever more dangerous. especially for people “confronting a severe but temporary” personal crisis.

No, I don’t expect that. I just wish that we, civilized Americans living in the twenty-first century, would at least realize that as we militarize our schools and our homes, as we pretend that our children are more secure with an armed sentry in the classroom and that we are safer with a pistol under the pillow, that in too many cases we are endangering the most vulnerable among us.

May Kathy Moretti continue to rest in peace.

16 Comments

  1. Good post Duane. But it’s way too reasoned and logical for the gun nuts. In fact, when you confuse them with the facts, they might even be inclined to “shoot” the messenger They like their myths, thank you very much.

    Fortunately for us, there are some other cool heads out there like yours who are not afraid to confront the NRA and their ilk with the facts. To wit: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/01/pro-gun-myths-fact-check

    Like

    • Herb,

      That is an interesting story. Thanks for the link.

      I would have guessed there are many more than 4 million guns in the hands of law enforcement and the military. That small number doesn’t make any sense to me. Related to that, I think the number of Americans reporting themselves as gun owners (listed as 35%) is much higher.

      Also, did you notice how high the red states were on the “gun ownership vs. gun deaths, by state” graph? Wow.

      And I found this very frightening:

      Drivers who carry guns are 44% more likely than unarmed drivers to make obscene gestures at other motorists, and 77% more likely to follow them aggressively.

      And these two items should scare everyone:

      • 43% of homes with guns and kids have at least one unlocked firearm.
      • In one experiment, one third of 8-to-12-year-old boyswho found a handgun pulled the trigger.

      Finally, the following graphic ought to open the eyes of those sitting on the fence on this issue, or who think video games are a large contributor to the problem:

      video games and violence

      Like

      • Duane,

        The Mother Jones article doesn’t cover the correlation of guns in the home and suicide rates. But this February 13th article in the New York Times does. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/14/us/to-lower-suicide-rates-new-focus-turns-to-guns.html?pagewanted=1&_r=0

        A pertinent quote: “The national map of suicide lights up in states with the highest gun ownership rates. Wyoming, Montana and Alaska, the states with the three highest suicide rates, are also the top gun-owning states, according to the Harvard center. The state-level data are too broad to tell whether the deaths were in homes with guns, but a series of individual-level studies since the early 1990s found a direct link. Most researchers say the weight of evidence from multiple studies is that guns in the home increase the risk of suicide.”

        I believe this evidence of the availability of guns to higher suicide rates applies to your Kathy. She had to go out her way to get a gun, but more importantly she knew a relative that had one.

        Herb

        Like

    • Anonymous

       /  March 6, 2013

      I’m sorry for your loss.
      14 years ago, we had a break in. Some hopped up meth heads, one of which was carrying a pistol that later was found to be illegally bought on the black market. As my wife came out of the bathroom, the man opened fire. I was in the doorway, looking down the hall, with my AR-15 because I had heard the front door being forced open. I started firing at him. The man dropped after many rounds, the other running out of the house. As I moved closer to the man lying there, i could hear the gurgling breathing sounds. Seconds later, he was done. I ran to my wife. She had been shot in her hand. If I haven’t have had my modern sporting rifle that night, he could have kept firing, killing my wife, my kids & myself. I called the 911… it took them 15 minutes to show up.
      For 12 years now, I have been a firearms instructor. I have students that are Law Enforcement, some ex military & responsible citizens…. Sometimes all in the same class. I’m in the business of helping people learn how to protect their loved ones, & themselves. In a perfect world, we would not need guns, police, military, nuclear bombs. Thats not the case though. I hear of countless cases every week were someone was in the same situation I was & were able to defend themselves & loved ones with a firearm. Sadly, the mainstream media doesn’t cover such things in general, so not many people hear about them. A firearm is a tool. It can be a tool for recreation, for protection, or yes, for destruction & mayhem. So can be a lot of other tools. But you all scorn gun owners, using this tool for the right reasons. Why do you have so much hatred towards gun owners? I too have lost a loved one to suicide. My Father. If it wasn’t a firearm, it would have been something else he used. I do not blame a knife, that slits someones wrist, or the ground that someone hits after jumping from a building. I believe if someone really wants to end their life, they are not gonna stop just because they don’t have a gun.
      Guns are safe as any tool, when handled properly. Its not something that will crawl out of your safe at night to murder you in your sleep on its own. Teachers in Utah have been able to carry concealed weapons for years now and have yet to have a accident, or a mass school shooting. Washington D.C. had a handgun ban in effect for years, during that ban, they were number 1 on the highest violent crime cities in the US. After the ban was lifted & responsible citizens armed themselves & the city dropped in rank Dramatically. Murder with a firearm is at a all time low in most places that have least restrictive gun laws, and the places where you hear of the most murder cases with a gun is in places with the MOST restrictive gun laws.
      I am a democrat, but Joe Biden is no self defense expert & to see these politicians on the news telling people how to best defend themselves is laughable at best. The advice they give is nonsensical. I on the other hand, am a expert in the field.
      In the end, it comes down to this… Self protection is a basic human right. I will never justify law enforcement or other government agencies being able to protect themselves (and the president) with weapons they wont allow us (their employers that vote them in) to protect ourselves and families with. Thats ludicrous to me. I have never had any Law enforcement in my class, that doesn’t believe in those same things.
      I respect everyones individual right to their opinion. I have no hatred for any of you, please have none for me.
      I have a genuine care for all people. I live to help them prepare for worst case scenarios. These things are just a fact of life. You will never disarm criminals completely of guns, & then that still leaves everything else they can use for murder. You certainly will not disarm criminals with laws. Thats why they are criminals… they break laws. The person who died in my house that night, was a repeat offender felon who by law was not allowed to buy, own, or use a gun for any purpose. That didn’t stop him… Joe Biden was caught saying (when he didn’t know he was being recorded) that he too knows that these gun laws they want to impose will do nothing to stop gun violence. These laws will simply disarm the law abiding.
      I, nor any of my hundreds of students, after all these years, have ever had a gun related accident.
      Again, sorry for your loss… I have been there. Take care all & be safe.

      Like

      • @ Anonymous,

        I don’t buy your story, it is simply too pat. It reads like an NRA apologia, and one part particularly stands out in that regard, i.e. where you hear someone breaking in your front door and you just happen to have your loaded AR-15 all ready to go. I’m not declaring that to be impossible but I am saying it’s extremely unlikely. If you really do live that way I feel sorry for you. (Although I have to say it’s kind of hard to sympathize with someone who hides their identity. What have you said that you’re not willing to be publicly known?)

        Like

        • Jim,

          You got it exactly right. This was an automated response, seeking to alter the debate by sheer volume.

          When I first read it, I noticed the same thing you did: how convenient to have a loaded assault weapon at the ready, but not in time to save the wife from injury.

          And for good measure, a family suicide was tossed in!

          But look at the way it covered all the bases besides the loaded AR-15 and the suicide:

          1. Meth heads broke in (everyone is scared of them because they will presumably do anything for drugs).

          2. Carrying a pistol that was purchased illegally (not from a reputable gun dealer or citizen selling a gun).

          3.”The man dropped after many rounds” (gotta have those high-capacity magazines!).

          4. Use of the term “modern sporting rifle” for AR-15. OMG.

          5.It took a whopping 15 minutes for the cops to show up (this family must have lived in the deepest bowels of Alaska.)

          6.”I hear of countless cases every week were someone was in the same situation I was & were able to defend themselves & loved ones with a firearm.” No evidence other than “I hear.” Studies have not shown this at all.

          7.”Why do you have so much hatred towards gun owners?” Ah, pity the poor gun owners.

          8.Then included is all the false information about how much more dangerous places are that have restrictive gun laws. What a bunch of lies.

          9.”I’m a Democrat…” Yeah, and I’m Cleopatra’s boyfriend.

          10.Wants the same guns that are used to protect the president, but doesn’t include, say, demands for secret service protection 24 hours a day, thankfully.

          11.Said he has never met anyone in law enforcement who doesn’t also believe in being able to have assault rifles, etc., which we know is a lie.

          12.The dead meth head was, imagine this, a “repeat offender felon who by law was to allowed to buy, own or use a gun for any purpose.” Yet: “That didn’t stop him…” Gun laws are useless, don’t you know, just like traffic laws are useless because people speed anyway.

          13.”I, nor any of my hundreds of students, after all these years, have ever had a gun related accident.” Oh, of course not. Not this guy! Yet in the news yesterday was word of a cop hired to protect schools discharging his Glock in the hallway!

          This is the sort of stuff we are up against.

          Like

  2. This moving post is poignant and, to this reader, convincing, but as you say Duane, it will not likely be so to gun zealots.

    The most convincing aspect of the suicide danger of guns is its ease of operation compared to other options. Poison is usually very painful and prolonged, at least any type people can get legally, like rat poison or lye for example. Hanging, probably the second most frequent choice of those successful, entails the risk of a minute or more of fundamental terror, suffocation being one of those fears basic to all people, like falling. Bombs might be an option, and indeed they are for terrorists, but most suicides don’t want to kill others, just themselves. And besides, like poison, bombs are limited by sensible laws. But guns are not and they make suicide very easy, a single bullet to the brain, a single pull of the trigger, and success is practically guaranteed, pain confined to a split second.

    Thus, I am brought to a reducio ad absurdem argument: suppose nuclear weapons were available to the public. How long do we think it would take for someone in a rage or dispair over a domestic dispute, or being fired, or a bad day of commuting, to take out a city? Not long I think. And this of course is the same point you made so well. Pulling a trigger is like hitting “enter” on your keyboard, and just as easy – it is an irreversible, finite moment.

    Please accept my sincerest condolences for Kathy’s death, Duane.

    Like

    • Thanks, Jim.

      And thanks for your rather chilling assessment of the alternatives for those contemplating suicide. In a very strange and unsettling way, guns, in comparison to those alternatives, seem somehow to be a “humane” way of doing it. But, as you point out, the “ease of operation” of handguns is ultimately the most inhumane way because it just shouldn’t be so easy to end your life during a moment or two of mind-gripping despair.

      Duane

       

      Like

  3. angelfire

     /  February 18, 2013

    I actually believe that if a person, depressed or whatever, wants to die no one should stand in his/her way. Had not your sister in law found this gun could she not have found pills? Maybe she could put the car in the garage and put the door down, turn the key on and as my friend did….kill herself.

    I am totally for gun control but I’m also for common sense. If a person wants to die they will find a way. I hate the NRA as much as anyone but in the case of suicide….I would hardly make the emotional and desperate stretch to blame anyone but the person holding the gun.

    Which brings me to my next point. Statistically women do not commit suicide with a gun. Men use guns, women use pills. Check FBI stats….it is VERY rare that a woman uses a gun. I smell a rat here. Are you absolutely sure SHE pulled the trigger?

    Like

    • Absolutely sure. She was depressed and in emotional pain. She walked way out in a rural area to do it.

      And by the way. She didn’t have a garage. She didn’t have a car. I don’t think she took a pill in her life, besides maybe vitamin supplements. I can fairly confidently say that for her, in this case, a handgun was the only way she would have taken her life. And in the news yesterday was a much more famous woman who killed herself with a gun. Perhaps such things are more common than they used to be, which is sort of my point.

      Finally, I don’t agree with you at all about allowing people in her situation to kill themselves, if there is something that can be done about it. I don’t want to live in a society in which such indifference is the norm. I’m sorry you feel that way.

      And for the record I don’t blame any NRA executive or spokesman or member or gun fanatic directly for this or any similar tragedy. What these people contribute to is a culture that I find ultimately dangerous for the most vulnerable folks who live among us, and as I said, I think we can do better than just letting women get shot by their armed and irate husbands or providing emotionally distraught people with a quick and easy method to do something that can’t be undone.

      Duane

      Like

  4. ansonburlingame

     /  February 19, 2013

    Put the personal loss, loss of a relative due to suicide, aside. To me Duane is making the argument for more gun control to reduce suicides. Yes, death by suicide using a gun is part of gun violence, but exactly how big a part, I have no idea.

    As well he demonstrated the “intersection” of mental health, depression in this case, and gun access. To me that makes the argument that much more difficult, developing better mental health diagnosis and treatment while limiting gun access at the same time. For sure what was available to Kathy in 1982 to diagnose and treat her depression was far different from today.

    Should, just for an example, anyone taking anti-depressant medication today be legally denied access to any gun, any time, any where. And would you suggest legal responsibility for the gun owner if a depressed individual in fact gained access to the owners gun? Such might be “food for thought” maybe, but consider the road blocks to pass such laws, today.

    Frankly, I see no political path today to effectively limit access to a gun for people like Kathy. People in such a state of mind are going to do what they decide to do. Suicidal people simply want to DIE but many have great fear of the “dying process”. They do not want to suffer pain or indignation. Now go online and find access to all sorts of “medication” today that can do the job, suicide, as just an example.

    I agree with Duane in his opposition to the NRA and for sure we both agree to find effective ways to limit gun violence. But I at least would refrain from trying to use someone like Kathy as a “poster child” in that policy debate. Her situation is far more complex and difficult to resolve than the innocent kid shot in a drive-by shooting, as just an example.

    Anson

    Like

    • Anson,

      I wan’t “trying to use Kathy as a ‘posterchild’” in the policy debate over guns. Her case simply illustrates just how the presence of a gun changes things in specifically unpredictable ways (no one knew an unloaded gun used as a prop for a costume would be an  instrument of her death) but in ways that are generally predictable (as the study I cited indicated: “The evidence is overwhelming for the fact that a gun in the home is a risk factor for completed suicide…”)

      My point was to remind us all that safeness related to the proliferation of guns is an illusion.

      Duane

      Like

      • ansonburlingame

         /  February 21, 2013

        Duane,

        For sure I support your cause to try, hard to limit gun violence. One of my causes is to find better ways to “help the downtrodden”. I have considerable “up close and personal” experience in such efforts but rarely if ever use examples of real people with whom I associate with such problems. I try at least to keep such examples private, limited to some private emails.

        Kathy’s case for sure was a tragic event. But anecdotes of such tragedy do little to help frame broad policy arguments, at least in my view. I KNOW people that have looked down the working end of a gun barrel and they not longer are alive. I also know people that have done so but still live. But I don’t use those anecdotes publicly to state a case for mitigating gun violence.

        Instead I let the media make such individual cases, like the slaughter in Newton and many other situations and then draw my own policy conclusions from such examples.

        Simply stated, I don’t like policy formations based on anecdotes. Such can be “spun” to make such cases. But NO, I in no way suggest your are “spinning” Kathy’s story either. Again a tragic event and a very personal one for you and your brother.

        Anson

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  5. Jane Reaction

     /  February 19, 2013

    I appreciate the dignity and acuity of this personal piece Randy.
    As you made it clear, again, guns kill rather efficiently. It is why they are chosen.
    Sorry for what might have been.

    Gerald Malan

    Like

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