Suicide and the Firearm

by Major Van Harl

Mental Gun Health
Suicide and the Firearm
Major Van Harl USAF Ret
Major Van Harl USAF Ret

United States -( I once worked for a Texas police department and was assigned to the Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) unit.

One time in a sixty day period, I worked twenty six dead body scenes. There were a couple of motor vehicle deaths, a couple of natural causes deaths, a suspicious death that later was labeled a homicide, but the rest of the deaths were suicides.

A gunshot was the primary way that people killed themselves. Usually to the head and in some cases when it was a women killing herself it tended to be a gunshot to the heart.

My first two suicides happened when I was a young lieutenant police officer in the Air Force. On these two occasions, civilians drove onto areas of March Air Force Base in Riverside, California that were open to the public. They parked their cars in secluded areas and stuck firearms into their mouths and pulled the trigger. In both cases they had borrowed someone else’s vehicle to kill themselves in, leaving a bio-hazard mess no one wanted to clean up in order to retain the use of their car.

This borrowing of someone else’s vehicle to utilize as an enclosed space to contain the effects of a firearm initiated death continued to be a theme throughout my law enforcement career, even to this day.

I have known at least four people in my life who committed suicide. One of them was a janitor at the Texas police department. I remember him coming into my office right after I had gotten back from a suicide by shotgun to the head inside a borrowed car. I was complaining about the dead person using his mother’s vehicle to kill himself in. Little did I know that months later I would respond to a secluded road where the janitor had killed himself. He did in fact borrow his mother’s car, but he got out of the vehicle first before he put the shotgun into his mouth.

I always wondered if he did that because of our conversation about suicidal people using friends or family borrowed vehicles to kill themselves in.

Lee Child, the author of the Jack Reacher series, deals with suicide in his latest book Make Me. In his book, he gives different percentages of success at killing yourself based on what method a person uses. I do not know where Child got his suicide statistics that he uses in the book. The one thing he tries to convey to his readers is suicide can be painful and very messy and not always provide the death the person is seeking.

In the plot of the book, people want to die. Perhaps for health reasons, both the breakdown of physical health and the breakdown of mental health. Guilt and pain can make people want to kill themselves just to make either stop. The problem in the book is the characters that wanted to die could not or would not kill themselves, so they paid another party to kill them for a contracted method and price.

A gunshot to the head is supposed to be the most successful way to kill you–until it fails to work.

I once was invited to visit the home of some people who shared my family surname. We were related seven or eight times removed. While sitting in the living room talking to a group of older adults, a man in his early forties came in the room. I immediately assumed the man had special needs mental health problems. He disturbed the conversation flow and appeared to annoy everyone in the room. After he left I was advised he had put a handgun to his head years ago and his current state was because he had survived the gunshot wound.

In all cultures, all races, and all walks of life there are people who want to die. Many cultures have traditions that prohibit the taking of your own life. I remember, as a child living in Scotland, hearing the stories of people who attempted suicide and failed in their attempt. Only then, to have the Crown Prosecutor in the British legal system, charge and convict them for violating the law against suicide.

Sadly a gunshot directly to the head is one of the most successful ways to kill yourself. Unfortunately the firearm gets the lion share of the negative press in a suicide by handgun, than the person who pulls the trigger on themselves.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2014 suicides accounted for 63% of all US gun deaths. I have known people who owned a gun store with a firing range on the premises where what appeared to be a normal person would come into shoot on the range. They would rent a handgun, proceed to the firing line and then stick the barrel in their mouth and pull the trigger. Taking their life and leaving the gun shop owner with the legal and physical mess to clean up after the fact.

They wanted to die, and through the power of TV and movies everyone knows what happens if you shoot yourself with a gun. Many of the western states have the highest rates of gun suicide, with Montana leading the way as the number one state for firearm induced killing of one’s self. The suggestion is that guns are much easier to acquire out in the old west, so it is more expedient to kill yourself with a firearm.

That is probably correct, but it is the suicide that is the problem, not the tool used to accomplish the grim task.

Doctors Pills and Guns
If it was legal for any citizen in any state to walk into a pharmacy and buy a package of suicide pills, this item could be a big hit…

If it was legal for any citizen in any state to walk into a pharmacy and buy a package of suicide pills, this item could be a big hit. Pills that taken in the correct order will calm you down, put you to sleep, and finally stop your heart from ever beating again after you quietly and painlessly start the process of killing yourself. With the ability to easily obtain these over-the-counter pills there could be a major increase in death by a person’s own hands in this country. The suicide death rate would go up, but firearms would stop being the primary tool of choice.

For whatever reason some people want to die, but many are afraid of screwing it up. What if they live? What if it really hurts and they don’t die right away and have to suffer? What if they recover and have to suffer pain, both physical and mental?

Men are much more successful at killing themselves, but if you take the fear and terror of a violent gun death away and introduce the painless pharmacy pack of suicide pills, and lot more women will die.

Firearms are used in suicide because they successfully get the job done no matter how distasteful to the rest of society that act of personal destruction is. The extremely high rates of alcohol related vehicle accidents that lead to death are suspect to me. How many people used alcohol and a vehicle to kill themselves so the surviving family and friends can be left to believe it was just a sad accident and not suicide?

You live in the only nation in the world where its citizens have the constitutional right to own firearms. With that right there comes the responsibility not to criminally harm others or harm yourself with your firearm.

Guns are tools, but they can be very destructive tools, destructive to human tissue, to the human soul, and to those who survive after someone takes their life. You will never do away with firearms, not in a free society. You will also never do away with suicide in any society, free or otherwise.

Some people hurt and hurt so much that death is (they believe) their only option. Guns are just a handy tool for those who will only move on to some other means (if less effective) to eventually terminate their life should a firearm not be available. Life is precious, but we cannot always account for or understand some people’s pain and their desperate attempts to make the pain stop. Sadly a firearm can in many cases make that pain stop.

The pain is the reason and cause for the suicide not the instrument used to facilitate the death.

We see you reading this. Do you feel lost lonely and unloved? Thinking of suicide? There are people who care and can help you.

Call 1-800-273-8255 or Visit :

About Major Van Harl USAF Ret.:

Major Van E. Harl USAF Ret., a career Police Officer in the U.S. Air Force was born in Burlington, Iowa, USA, in 1955. He was the Deputy Chief of police at two Air Force Bases and the Commander of Law Enforcement Operations at another. He is a graduate of the U.S. Army Infantry School. A retired Colorado Ranger and currently is an Auxiliary Police Officer with the Cudahy PD in Milwaukee County, WI. His efforts now are directed at church campus safely and security training. He believes “evil hates organization.” [email protected]

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

I feel like checking out. Especially today. Don’t know why but still have hope. I’m afraid once that’s gone. So will I be


I’ve worked in two psych wards. 5150s like me get placed on a 72-Hour hold. My husband passed away the love of my life. Eight surgeries in past year and a half. Can’t work out anymore that definitely helped. My son is in his own life after telling, not asking for money while I was in ICU. I’m broke. The only person I want to talk to is someone who will sell me a gun. Then I’ll have some Jack and be with my husband, sis and baby brother. Peace


It’s easy to smack someone else’s d1ck against a bush full of thornes… satyrical but true. Pain is relative, not absolute. Pretending to “understand” pain that the other person is going through is delusional. Blaming suicide attempters of narcissism is wrong, as pretty much everyone who is successful is a narcissist. The one’s who aren’t are (ab)used. It’s ironic watching some folks preventing abortions, disallowing suicide, and at the same time advocating for death penalty. It doesn’t matter whether gunshot is through temple or mouth, what matters is whether the bullet hits Pons and Medulla; these are centers that regulate… Read more »


So, that’s the best place not the mouth? Best/cheapest gun? Thank you.

Morten Bang

In early 1995 I attempted suicide with a hollow point 22 pistol. I now suffer from memory problems and the vision in my right eye is about 40 percent reduced. I am on disability. It is now 2017 and I find myself wanting to do it again, but this time with a larger gun. I was ok for 22 years but my girlfriend decided she couldn’t sexually ejaculate with me anymore. Also I have had a temper which she says is the reason. We have a 16 year old son. Can somebody please tell me where the satisfaction of life… Read more »


I think the suicide pill is a good idea. The problem with it is people who are in pain temporarily will use it for a permanent solution. But for those in permanent pain it would be a good option. Perhaps put a waiting time on it though.

Sam Vanderburg

Life is precious – even those who suffer are precious. You are right about a waiting period at least if such is ever enacted into law. I disagree even with physician assisted suicide. We do not need to become a culture of death anymore than what we are. Life is precious. As it is, life is as fragile as a flower and passes like a vapor in time.


On Monday October 3rd, 2016 my beloved husband of 19 years went to work in the morning and in the afternoon the coroner came to my door to tell me and our 16 year old Autustic son that he wasn’t ever coming home. He went into a small back office of the business that we owned, that he had spent more than 3 decades cultivating a reputation as one of the best in his field and got down on his knees and placed a shotgun in his mouth and pulled the trigger. His family meant everything to him and 6… Read more »


I am sorry for your loss. I’ve never thought about suicide until the past few months. My brother who got over 8 million after stepfather passed and was suppose to help me and my son with 250,00. I’ve had so many hernia mesh surgeries I can’t exercise. Use to run 10 miles a day now I have to sit down every 50’. I lost my husband a few years ago to cancer way to soon. I’m broke, can’t work, gave my son money constantly and now he doesn’t talk to me. I’m not happy. I want to go never owned… Read more »

Sam Vanderburg

Laurie, I am also a serious chronic pain patient. I know how it wears you down and grates on you like nothing else will. I also hurt from the inside. I have witnessed too many deaths of people I was trying to save. It is bad enough when it is someone you are trying to save their life, but when it is a young person or a child, it does hurt that I still cannot comprehend. That said, I have been where you are. Yet, I did wake up in an ICU when I did not want to… Since then… Read more »


If people had a safe and painless way to die when they choose they would not use guns. A person’s life is theirs alone. They choose when it is time to check out. Not you, or your nanny state, or your religious beliefs.

Sam Vanderburg

Thanks for the response, Ammoland! When a person is in pain, it is hard to see options of help. There are options! There is help!


I am so vert tired of trying to pretend that everything is all right wit me but it isn’t a;; right! I’m married but don’t have any friends out here but she has plenty of family & friends. Evey friggin holiday we always spend time with them and not us! I’m tired of the depression, the dreams, the dead people in my life no longer. Is there any one else that must do the same as me and be miserable?? If this sounds like you then contact me and tell me how you deal with this sh*t! I like my… Read more »

Richard Simons

Your’s is an old post so I hope you are still with us. I’m 70,and I have tried several times to end my life. Like you I was not close to my family and my wife was always with hers.I moved close to my kids hoping to enjoy a family NOT.So now I’m looking for the best place to put a bullet. Wanna talk? Maybe we can help each other.


F Riehl, Editor in Chief

These folks can help you, please call them today. Call 1-800-273-8255 or Visit

F Riehl, Editor in Chief


There are people who care for you. Please Call 1-800-273-8255, or visit :


As a Firefighter I ran at least three suicides by car that resulted in 4 deaths. There were others that were questionable but nothing was ever proven beyond a shadow of a doubt.


People that are in constant pain 24/7 finally wear themselves out trying to deal with it. America needs a solution as suggested above to get a “suicide pill package” that actually works.

People that have never been in constant pain have no idea what it is like to suffer constantly, no matter what you do to try and stop or alleviate the pain.

Noting will stop what is going on every day, worldwide. There has to be a solution and the pill package would be a good start.


I wholeheartedly agree.

Sam Vanderburg

NO! There is help for those who want it. I received it. Others I know personally have received the kind of help they need, also. One such place for help is the Text Crisis Line at 855-449-1212. This group of trained councilors work tirelessly to provide care by helping people think through their situation and come to a safe solution. Suicide is never a good or a valid option. Even in pain and suffering, there can be purpose in life. Choose life!


You are a good man


As a mental health worker, I can’t even remember the number of clients I have worked with who attempted suicide and failed (at least partially). I guess it makes sense since, Séances not being part of my skill set, I never deal with those who succeed in committing suicide. In any case, I can vouch for the fact that there are a great many folks out there who have tried it and failed, using a variety of MOs, including guns. Even if you shoot yourself in the head, you have to shoot the right PART of your head to kill… Read more »


The teenage daughter of my wife’s co-worker recently committed suicide. The young girl was unable to quickly or easily obtain a firearm, so she hung herself. Indeed a tragedy, but one that proves this article’s point… it’s the pain, not the tool used, that causes the suicide.

Sam Vanderburg

Good article. Suicide is at epidemic levels. I am concerned about it and attempted suicide myself. The availability of means certainly influences suicide, but a determined person will go to great extremes to escape the psychache. It never hurts to ask a person who is depressed about how they are doing. Show some care and the suicide rate can be influenced but perhaps the one that is questioned. Some areas to research to supplement what has been looked at would be the overall suicide rates in Canada, England, and Australia before and after their enacting their strict gun control laws.… Read more »