The woman at the counter of Keith's Sporting Goods wanted a handgun. She wasn't interested in price, quality or how to use it safely. She spoke slowly that day in June as she made one request: Would the clerk load it?
Maria Ward doesn't judge her customers. Americans have a right to buy firearms, after all. But this woman seemed traumatized. Ward worried she planned to hurt someone. "I'm sorry," Ward told her. "I'm not going to sell you a firearm." Ward, who owns the Gresham gun store with her husband, then did something she'd never done before. She warned the Oregon State Police not to allow anyone else to sell Brenda Nyhof Dunn a gun.
But the agency, which performs background checks for most gun sales in Oregon, told Ward there was nothing it could do under the law.
The next day, Nyhof Dunn drove to Dick's Sporting Goods in Gresham. She bought a rifle and ammunition, according to the police report, which included a receipt from the transaction. She paid $10 to have the Oregon State Police perform a background check, which she easily passed.
Hours later, she fatally shot herself. She was 36.
In the movie "Jurassic Park", the character Malcolm (played by Jeff Goldblum) famously stated: "Life will find a way".
In real life, it is true also that death will find a way.
In America, gun control advocates famously proffer statistics such as "xx.x% of people who kill themselves use a gun", usually phrased to imply that guns are the root cause of many suicides.
They make this statement to advance their thesis; guns are only to kill people, and without guns fewer people would be killed. Or, fewer would kill themselves.
A February 12, 2013 article in "Psychology Today" offers a different set of statistics:
Japan has averaged over 30,000 suicides annually for the past 14 years. That’s almost 24 suicides per 100,000 people. In America the rate is 12 per 100,000 people, half that of Japan.(This, in spite of the fact that according to a 1993 article published by the Asia Pacific Law Review by Dave Kopel, labeled "Japanese Gun Control" "... (gun) control in Japan is the most stringent in the Democratic world").
Japanese who decide to end their life chose jumping in front of a train, hanging, medication overdose, leaping off a high building or the latest craze -- using common household products to create the poisonous gas hydrogen sulfide.
Statistically most completed suicides in the US are indeed by firearms, simply because they're lethal and readily available. But if they were not, someone who was determined to end his life would find a way to do it, à la Japan.
And this beautiful, vital young woman was determined to end her life.
It was her choice. Was it wrong? I think so. I've known more than one person who committed suicide using a gun. I've seen the damage it does to their families. Suicide is the most selfish act one person can commit without directly involving another victim. Some religions consider suicide a mortal sin; which I've always considered "after the fact judgementalism" but that doesn't necessarily make them wrong.
Brenda Nyhof Dunn was so disappointed in her life, and so eager to end her existence, that nobody could help her. She had been married, and when that union failed she lapsed into depression. Her belief in God did not provide the stability she needed. Her family was as supportive as possible, but she found no solace there, either. She had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, but medications and treatment didn't help. She had committed herself to voluntary hospitalization several times.
So she went "gun store" shopping.
The first place she went, the licensed firearm dealer recognized that she had severe emotional problems and refused to sell her a firearm.
Apparently, she learned to modify her dialogue and finally she was able to present herself as a "normal person" when legally purchasing a firearm.
Her determination to end her life was recognized by both mental health professionals and her family and friends, but her name never entered the system which was designed to prevent exactly this kind of tragedy.
The Gun Control Advocates would characterize this story as representing a failure of "The System". And they would be right.
But they would rectify the situation by imposing more laws. More restrictions. More impositions on legal, responsible, SANE gun owners.
Where does it stop?
We cannot stop a determined person from taking her own life. Existing laws didn't stop Brenda Nyhof Dunn any more than it has stopped criminals from illegally acquiring firearms.
Brenda Nyhof Dunn was a criminal, in the sense that she deliberately broke the law in order to achieve an end which she considered desirable. And criminals are defined as ... that sort of person. I mean no disrespect to Brenda Nyhof Dunn or to her friends and family and other people who tried to help her. It's a definition, not a characterization.
More laws are not the answer. The problem is not one of legality, but of society.
Suicide is illegal in America, as it is in Japan; but here, there and everywhere it's the one law which mandates punishment only for unsuccessful attempts. The solution is not to regulate objects, but to provide societal solutions to the most difficult problems imaginable.
I don't have any answers here. All I know is that legislators have a single hammer .. enacting laws; and to them, every problem looks like a nail.
We've gone about as far as we can with legislation, counseling, and even the love of a family.
Yes, perhaps we can "save just ONE child", but we can't save ALL of the children.
That sounds cold, but today the world seems colder than we can bear.