While consumed with one crisis, we tend to put others on the back-burner. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, gun violence and suicide would count as largely being pushed into the latter category over the past year. The only time we seem to have a national conversation about gun violence is after mass shootings, which actually make up a very small number of gun deaths in the United States each year. The majority of people who die by gunshot wounds turned the weapon on themselves, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics.
Thankfully, Carroll County does not have a particular reputation for gun violence, but neither is the county immune. Two shootings in the span of five days reminded everyone of that.
On March 11, a Westminster man, William Skillin, shot his wife, Mary Skillin, and then shot and killed himself in what was determined to be a case of domestic violence, according to the Westminster Police Department. (As of Thursday, Mary Skillin was stable but remained in critical condition.) On March 15, a Taneytown woman was shot in the arm and taken to University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore for treatment. This case does not appear to be a crime, but rather an accident involving a minor, according to Maryland State Police.
We offer condolences to the families while also pointing out how frequently tragedies occur. According to gunviolence.org, there had been 9,196 gun violence deaths in 2021. Nearly 10,000 dead less than three months into the year. The number of those considered unintentional (387) far outpaces the number of officer-involved (264).
There were another 6,972 gunshot injuries.
While nearly 4,000 of those gun deaths were homicides, more than 5,000 were suicides. There have also been 127 murder-suicides, the apparent intent of the recent Westminster shooting.
There are more than 40,000 suicides in the United States each year and the number has increased by about 30% since 2000.
According to the book, “The Violence Inside Us,” guns are used in only 6% of suicide attempts, yet account for 54% of all successful suicide attempts and while only 3% of suicide attempts by drug overdose are fatal, that number rises to 85% when a firearm is involved. The book goes on to say that suicide rates in America would be far lower if guns weren’t so prevalent.
We are right to focus on the pandemic, on mask-wearing and social-distancing, on vaccinations and reopenings. But it’s critical to remember COVID-19 is far from the only ongoing crisis and that it can serve to escalate others. According to various surveys, the isolation and economic downturn for many has fueled a significant rise in depression and anxiety as well as an increase in substance abuse.
Obviously, guns need to be stored safely, locked away from children and anyone who isn’t a household member trained to responsibly handle it.
We also need to be mindful of emotional or behavioral changes in our friends and family members, be proactive in talking to them and offering help and be willing to report anything worrisome to health officials or law enforcement.
We’ve had one tragic incident in Carroll recently and nearly had another. In residences, neighborhoods and communities, let’s do all we can to keep everyone as safe as possible.
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The national suicide prevention line is 1-800-273-8255. Tips on firearm violence prevention can be found at www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/firearms/fastfact.html.