My nephew was many things: a beloved member of our family; a veteran; a gun owner. And a little over a year ago, he used one of those guns to take his life – the tragic consequence of his mental illness, which got him discharged from the Army after a suicide attempt. While time has passed since my nephew's death, the pain of losing him is just as real as the day he died. This is why I became an advocate, and am working with the Brady Campaign: to make sure that others don't have to go through the same thing my family has, losing a loved one to suicide.
I know that too many Americans already know this pain—22,000 people committed suicide with guns last year. But many of those deaths are preventable. Everyone knows how important it is to keep guns out of dangerous hands, like the hands of criminals and terrorists, and of course I agree. But sometimes the dangerous hands are your very own. As someone with a history of addiction, I know what it's like to wrestle with demons. Spencer lost his battle, because he had easy access to guns.
I've never served this nation in uniform, but as an American, I care about the brave men and women who defend our shores, and I know sometimes they wage wars in their heads long after they step off the battlefield. As a nation, we have a responsibility to keep these guns out of the hands of those in crisis, and get those individuals the treatment and support they need to have a bright future.
Suicide is a public health epidemic in this country, and it disproportionately affects veterans. Every single day, 20 veterans take their own lives, and the vast majority of those use a gun. Couple that with the fact that we know firearms have an unusually high rate of lethality—more than 85 percent of suicide attempts with a gun are fatal. Preventing someone in the throes of a mental health crisis from putting their hands on a gun is a critically important step to saving their lives.
When I was young, I was taught the risks of guns if they are misused. I learned how to remain vigilant while hunting, how to clean my rifles, and then how to store them after the season was over. I'm a supporter of the Second Amendment and a long-time gun owner, but I know the unique dangers of a firearm landing in the wrong hands. It took the death of my 24-year-old nephew for me to get involved, and I'm doing this to protect more kids out there like Spencer.
On this Memorial Day, my thoughts are not only with Spencer and the life he should have had here, but also with those veterans who have lost their lives both on the battlefield and here at home.