Monday, May 20, 2013


 The stalled gun control discussion in America is primarily focused on background checks to keep guns out of the hands of convicted felons and people with known mental illness. This is important, but it is only part of the problem with guns in America. 

This is what a human skull looks like after a hand gun is discharged while pointing up under the chin or in the mouth. This skull was found with most of the rest of a human skeleton and a number of personal items in the woods of rural northwest Florida. The remains of this John Doe were determined to be the result of a suicide by gun.

This is the handgun found with the human remains. According to the Taylor County Sheriffs Office, "The weapon found at the scene was a Charter Arms 38 Cal. Revolver with a serial number of 23173. ATF trace shows the gun shipped from manufacture to Howard Brother Wholesale Distributers at 801 Riverbarge, Monroe Louisianna on 15 February 1968. No further records available."

According to data for 2010 published by the CDC, the rate of suicides in the United States has risen sharply since 2000, now accounting for more deaths than automobile accidents. Suicides by middle-aged men have risen more sharply than for other segments of the population. 

Here are some summary data for 2010:

All suicides

  • Number of deaths: 38,364
  • Deaths per 100,000 population: 12.4
  • Cause of death rank: 10

Firearm suicides

  • Number of deaths: 19,392
  • Deaths per 100,000 population: 6.3

Suffocation suicides

  • Number of deaths: 9,493
  • Deaths per 100,000 population: 3.1

Poisoning suicides

  • Number of deaths: 6,599
  • Deaths per 100,000 population: 2.1

What stands out immediately in the data summary above is that suicide by gun  is the most popular method among suiciders (I prefer this term to "suicide victims"). Why is that?

I can only guess about the answer to that question, of course, because there are no interviews of successful suiciders. My guess has two parts: 1) suicide by gun is instantaneous, if conducted properly, thus avoiding the pain and suffering of suffocation, poisoning, or bleeding to death; and 2) guns are very easy to get. 

And this is the issue; the accessibility of guns in America. Tens of thousands of people in this country kill themselves with a gun every year. And we - that's right, you and I - allow it to happen over and over and over. We allow it to happen by not insisting that our government strictly control firearms. I don't have statistics, but I will bet that the number of suicides would drop by many thousands a year if guns were not so easily obtainable in America. 

Did I mention that the skull shown above was my kid brother Larry? Larry became a missing person in January, 1999 after sending his 2 brothers and a few close friends a long, carefully composed printed suicide letter. He disappeared from Manhattan where he had lived for many years. In August of 2000, some hunters found human remains in the woods of Florida, and a diligent investigator with the Taylor County Sheriff's Office finally cracked the John Doe suicide case in 2004. From the articles found at the scene, it appears that Larry sat under a tree, drank a bottle of brandy and smoked a pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes (irony was one of Larry's trademarks) while listening to a John Coltrane CD ("My Favorite Things" which I now have and listen to occasionally) on his walkman. He then put a bullet through his brain. 

Larry most likely bought the handgun on the street in New York. Maybe he knew some shady characters; he hung out at the horse races a lot. The coroners report mentioned that he had a few healed ribs that had been broken;  hence part of our family lore that Larry was in trouble with the mob over gambling debts - but this is just us imaging Larry's life and death. 

The handgun shown above can be traced from the manufacturer to a wholesale dealer, and that is where the trail ends. Why is that? How did that gun get into the hands of a guy in New York city who used it to kill himself? Why doesn't the government track guns as they move through the population? I'll bet the NRA knows the answer to this one! That gun could not be traced, and therefore the identity of a John Doe could not be determined. It took 5 years for us to find out what happened to our brother, and the answer came only because a dedicated law officer in Florida wouldn't give up and finally figured it out starting with the State of New York tax stamp on the package of Lucky Strikes

Larry I. Fishman was 49 years old when he left New York for the last time. He was a bachelor, and in many ways a loner with few close friends. He was intelligent, a talented actor and song writer, a lawyer. He wrote, produced and starred in a short movie just before he checked out (we have a copy). And as shown above, Larry never missed an opportunity to mug for a camera or an audience. 

Alas, poor Larry. I still have a black plastic box containing Larry's ashes (we had his skeletal remains cremated after getting them from the Taylor County Coroner). I need to do something with it, but I haven't yet. His suicide was carefully planned and staged; he even had a plastic bag in his pocket with $150 and a note that the money was for any expense involved if someone found his remains - and it included an apology for the trouble. A kind and considerate man to the very end!

I often wonder if Larry would still be alive if he had not been able to get a handgun. I don't know whether or not Larry would have done himself in by poison, a plastic bag over his head, or opening a vein. But I think he would not have - a single shot through the brain was so quick and, well, so Larry. Maybe if guns were not so easily attainable my little brother would still be mugging for my camera. 

How many more Larrys will kill themselves with a gun before we come to our senses? This is a national tragedy, and we need to end  it


  1. very moving blog Fish. That the tragedy of gun violence touched your own family so dramatically, makes it all the more heart-wrenching. This says it all!

  2. We chatted at the Ginny Burdick event and I was outraged then, more so now. A very moving piece.

  3. Thgis is a terific, moving post. I feel deeply for you and Larry both, I myself being a depressed, wayward 49 year old professional currently contemplating suicide by gun. That photo of the skull puts me of the idea.

  4. Dear Bailey. I hope you meant to say that the photo put you "off" the idea. Please get help for your dark thoughts. There is a national helpline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You matter.

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  6. Your brother got himself in trouble and instead of being murdered by the mob he killed himself, blame your brother and the mob not the tool being the gun. In 1999 Bill Clinton sign into law a bill that allowed China to enter the WTO effectively killing millions of jobs in America over the past decade and a half. The social and economic climate are the root cause, stop blaming the gun and try and fix the reason for the suffering. It is selfish to want people to suffer and just scold them for feeling bad and taking away more things and freedoms from the people does not make them happier. I am glad we live in a nation that doesn't allow people who don't agree with others run everyone Else's life. I am sorry for your loss but direct that energy and passion to actually make the world a happier place, a place where people don't have the urge to kill themselves in the first place. Banning guns will only make a black market for them.

  7. Dear Anonymous: thank you for your comment. I re-read this post from a couple of years ago after reading your comment. I can only say that I still think, even more so now than before, that guns need to be strictly regulated in this country. Do you drive a car? They are very tightly regulated because of the potential for improper design and use to injure and kill people (they still do). You need to be trained to drive a car, pass a written and driving test, and then have that renewed every few years. And your car has to have numerous safety features, be registered with the state, reregistered with the state by a new owner if you sell it, and be insured. Do you complain that regulating motor vehicles takes away your freedom? I doubt it. So why is gun regulation such a difficult concept? Do you want to own guns? Well, go through training, take a test, get a license to own and operate it, and renew that every few years. And yes, the gun itself should have regulated safety features, be registered and re-registered if you sell it, and you should be required to have insurance in case you shoot someone, or yourself.

    In relation to suicides, my point is that I'm guessing that many people would not plan and commit suicide if they knew it would be difficult and painful (I'm not a mental health professional, so this is a guess). Way too many people kill themselves, and way too many people are injured or killed by guns in this country every year - tens of thousands of people. When the next terrorist event happens here, people will be all freaked out and yelling at government to do something about the terrorists; and yet we have tens of thousands of murders by gun every year, and folks like you (and I assume you are a good, well-meaning person) fight gun control. It truly makes no sense.

    Thanks for reading my blog post, and for this opportunity to exchange thoughts. Best to you, Anonymous.

  8. How does your position square with physician-assisted suicide?

  9. Hi Anonymous, good to read from you again. I'm not sure I understand your question. I support physician-assisted suicide. Here in Oregon, it is very highly regulated. It is not available to healthy people or people who want it as an option because of depression. And guns are not used in physician-assisted suicide.

    I'll look for anotherr comment from you in about a year (LOL). Best to you.