Opinion

Op-Ed: The right of the depressed to defend themselves

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Opinion,Op-Eds,Gun Control

The small red pool on the bathroom floor grew as the gash on my leg continued to bleed. My mother knocked on the door, and I didn't respond. She immediately panicked and called my father, who forced the door. Though I'd been self-harming for months, I'd never gone this far before.

Soon after getting some staples in my leg at the ER, I was released -- but not back to my home. I went to a psychiatric institution. With my father alongside me, they evaluated my mental health and determined if I was a suicide risk. I wasn't, and they released me after only a few hours.

According to some, people who have stories like mine shouldn't be able to own guns. There haven't been many areas of agreement so far in the current gun control debate, but there is consensus developing on one issue: We should work harder to make sure the "mentally ill" don't get firearms.

Consider a Jan. 18 op-ed in the New York Times written by Wendy Button, who asks for readers to "Please Take Away My Right to a Gun." Her argument is simple: When gripped by the despair so familiar to those with depression, she doesn't trust herself with a gun, and so she asks our political leaders to "take away my Second Amendment right."

Ms. Button can't speak for those with depression any more than I can, but let me share my concern with her line of thinking, and with the emerging consensus about restricting the rights of the depressed.

I am not the same person as I was 10 years ago, a despondent 18-year-old sitting in the bathroom with a knife I stole from my brother's room. I was severely depressed throughout most of my teenage years, but that phase of my life ended.

I stopped my self-harming, went to college, dropped out and got married. My wife helped pull me out of depression. We bought a home. I finished my college education, had three kids, sold our home, and moved to the D.C. area to become a policy analyst.

I've also become a gun owner. Plinking around with my Ruger 10/22 is lots of fun, and I feel much more able to defend my family by having a 12-gauge around.

My past depression shouldn't nullify my Second Amendment rights. I have the same reasons to own guns as any other American does, and it's unclear why my right to do so would be voided because of a dark time in my life.

Ms. Button might respond by pointing out that I may relapse at some point. While it is true that I could fall back into depression again, it is also true that I may never do so -- I've already been a responsible gun owner for several years.

Even if someone dealing with depression owns a gun, it isn't fair to assume they are an immediate danger to themselves or others. Only a fraction of those with depression attempt suicide. While their deaths are tragic, the idea that we can stop them from committing suicide by prohibiting gun ownership is nonsensical. Japan's suicide rate is among the highest of OECD countries, yet they have almost no gun ownership.

I agree that owning a gun is more risky for those with depression. Of course, there is also a risk of being unable to defend yourself. Ms. Button would prefer that the government weighs the risks and rewards of gun ownership for her. In doing so, she would deprive me -- and millions of other Americans -- of that same right.

Sam Patterson is a policy analyst living in Northern Virginia.

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