By NANCY FENTON
Welcome to the “next chapter” of my life… being a voice and an advocate for #mentalhealthawarenessandsuicideprevention, especially pertaining to our younger generation of students and student-athletes.
Getting men to speak up and reach out for help and assistance is one of my passions. Us men need to not suffer in silence or drown our sorrows in alcohol, hang out at bars and strip joints, or get involved with drug use.
Having gone through a recent bout of #depression and #suicidalthoughts myself, I realize now, that I can make a huge difference in the lives of so many by sharing my story, and by sharing various resources I come across as I work in this space. #http://bit.ly/JamesMentalHealthArticle
Twenty-five years ago, I was part of Maryland’s progressive gun violence prevention movement. My then-spouse had been shot in the head during a robbery in Baltimore. His high-profile shooting helped to harness the energy of an emerging group of people distressed by the rising number of gun-related murders, accidents and #suicides.
Back then, we felt certain handgun violence could be prevented by reasonable gun control laws. We looked to Canada and European countries as places where life was valued above gun sales. Surely, we thought, common sense would prevail. We advocated for the elimination of straw gun purchases and the use of gun safety locks. We held hope in the emerging technology of fingerprint scanning that would limit the use of a handgun to its registered owner.
We were hopeful even as parents lost children through guns — young men killed on the streets of Baltimore, children accidentally killed by handguns “hidden” in dresser drawers and teens who killed themselves with guns. My colleagues and I were on the front line of phone calls from parents whose children were yet to be buried; we were called on to request the return of bloody clothes held as evidence by law enforcement. Over time, political might won over bullet-ridden bodies, and America’s stomach for gun violence prevention waned — as did our hope for a less violent society.
Thirty killed in two mass shootings this weekend. Two hundred murdered in Baltimore this year. Sixty-five gun #suicides per day in America.
Are we now angry enough to change the uniquely American tragedy of gun violence?
Today, nearly two-thirds of gun deaths are #suicide. Accessibility of guns is contributing to #suicide among teens, veterans, law enforcement and older people — representing nearly every part of our society. #Suicide is private and quiet. #Massshootings are public and horrific. In cities such as Baltimore, gun violence is unrelenting. Children receive trauma care and practice school lock downs.
On the local news this weekend, a pediatrician discussed how parents engage in age-appropriate discussions with their children about mass shootings. He advised that, much like fire safety plans, families should develop a communication plan in the event of a public shooting.
Our lives have changed to adjust to the ramped-up reality of guns in our country. In recent years, I have witnessed armed guards at the sacred places of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta and the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. Is this from an abundance of caution or a statement about the reality of the world we live in? Either way, it is painfully uncomfortable to accept this as a way of life in a country founded on the principles of liberty and justice.
The culture of gun violence cannot continue. In the past 25 years, we have shifted our cultural norms about drunk driving, seat belt use and bike helmets. With each issue, Americans changed their attitudes and practices for the sake of common-sense safety. The same can be accomplished with guns in America. We must act to protect the lives of those we love.
Here are some steps to move the needle:
1. Do not keep guns unlocked or unsecured in your home. Your children and teenagers will find them. They can easily inflict harm on themselves and others. Ask friends and relatives to do the same. To learn more about suicide, visit the #AmericanFoundationforSuicidePrevention at www.afsp.org.
2. Advocate for the availability of #mentalhealth resources at schools and other local places. Learn more from the non-profit #MentalHealthAmerica, www.mentalhealthamerica.net.
3. Work to ensure gun violence prevention is a top priority for your elected officials. Learn about state gun laws at www.everytownresearch.org.
“We cannot let those killed in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, die in vain,” the president tweeted Monday. “Likewise for those so seriously wounded. We can never forget them, and those many who came before them.”
He neglected to say: And the many who will come after — if we don’t act. Now.
Nancy Fenton lives in Baltimore; her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.