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When A Split Second Can Determine Life or Death

A view of guns through a chain link fenced locker at Max Pawn Shop

Supporters of Nevada’s new safe gun storage law say it can make the difference between life and death

Warning: This story contains discussion of violence and suicide. 

TOM CRUZ still remembers the moment he took his wife hostage like it was yesterday. “I snapped,” he recalls, referring to the split-second decision he made to kill his spouse, and then himself, in November 2010. “The only reason I’m alive and she’s alive,” he says, “was her ability to read the situation, listen to things that were being said, and talk me out of it.” 

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Cruz, a military veteran and father of seven, now recognizes not only the role that mental health played in this episode, but also the dangers of his unsecured firearm, which he used to hold his wife at gunpoint. This is why he now advocates for safe gun storage and is a spokesperson for End Family Fire, a collaboration between the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence and the Ad Council that seeks to educate Americans on the dangers of unsafely stored firearms. With September being National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, this time of year brings renewed attention to suicide and the uniquely American role that guns often play in self-inflicted fatalities. 

According to Brady, each year an average of 24,569 Americans of all ages, including 732 children under the age of 18, die from gun suicide. This translates to 67 people dying each day. Equally as disturbing, studies show that attempts in which a gun is chosen as the suicide method are successful 90 percent of the time. Other research indicates that easy firearm access can triple the probability that someone will attempt to commit suicide. 

These national numbers provided part of the rationale for legislative action close to home. Nevada, which has the 12th-highest firearm suicide rate in the nation, saw SB 294 passed in this year’s legislature. Dubbed the “Safe Firearm Storage Act,” the law makes it a misdemeanor to know that an unsecured firearm is present and accessible to a minor. Signed into law by Governor Joe Lombardo on June 14, it went into effect on July 1. 

Although the bill was drafted mainly to prevent school shootings, its primary sponsor, Senator Fabian Doñate, says it potentially prevents suicide, too. Doñate says, “This can be a commonsense deterrent to buy just a few more seconds” as the person accesses their gun from a safe or removes a lock — time during which self-harming emotions can subside. 

Critics of the bill say that such laws do not deter violence, but only serve to hamper responsible gun owners from accessing their firearms in an emergency. Yet, Cruz believes this type of legislation might be what saves a life or prevents a suicide. “(In my case) there was no time and space,” he says. “(The gun) was sitting right there next to me. So, there was no time for my wife to be able to leave, there was no time to call anybody … I may have come out of whatever was wrong with me just trying to go to where the firearm was.”

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If you or a loved one are having thoughts of suicide, you can reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by dialing 988.