One week ago Channing Smith, a 16-year-old from Tennessee, took his own life with a gun after he was outed on social media. As a gay Tennessee high school student, it’s not hard to put myself in Channing’s shoes. I’ve been threatened with gun violence just for being who I am, and I’ve even considered taking my own life because of it. I don’t want one more young queer person to take their own life or be the victim of a hate crime.
So as we mourn the loss of Channing, I hope we also address this country’s gun violence crisis in all its forms, particularly the devastating impact that gun violence has on the LGBTQ+ community.
This past summer, I started a chapter of Students Demand Action for Gun Sense in America in the Tri-Cities of Tennessee because I was fed up with the inaction I saw from people in power after school shootings and the weakened gun laws being proposed in the Tennessee state legislature. I first thought of gun violence in terms of school shootings, but I soon realized how multi-faceted the issue is and how much it affects the LGBTQ+ community — particularly when it comes to gun suicides and hate crimes.
Suicide accounts for nearly two-thirds of all gun deaths in this country, and the rate of firearm suicide for children and teens has increased by 76 percent in the past 10 years. People often think that suicide is inevitable, but that’s just not true. Most people who attempt suicide do not die, and a majority of those who survive suicide attempts do not attempt it again. But nearly all gun suicide attempts end in death — while less than five percent of suicides without a gun are fatal. So when we talk about suicide, it’s critical that we talk about access to guns. In too many cases, easy access to a gun is what robs someone attempting suicide of their second chance at life.
My heart breaks when I think about all the lives that have been taken because a young person in crisis had easy access to a gun, especially because I was almost one of them. My parents have always owned guns, but they also know that gun ownership comes with the responsibility to securely store firearms locked away and out of reach. When I attempted to take my own life, it was that responsibility that prevented my story from unfolding like Channing’s story did. Having access to a firearm triples a person’s risk of death by suicide, so secure firearm storage is an essential way to prevent gun suicide by children and teens.
I was lucky that I got a second chance, so I’m committed to using my time to advocate for common sense gun laws, especially those that can help prevent hate crimes against the LGBTQ+ community. In an average year, over 10,300 hate crimes in the United States involve a gun — more than 28 each day. And in 2017, anti-LGBTQ+ bias motivated 17 percent of hate crimes. Gun violence also has a particularly devastating impact on the transgender community; of the at least 18 trans people who have been killed nationwide this year, 14 were killed with a gun. Almost all were Black women.
Despite this crisis, some people convicted of hate crimes can still legally buy or possess guns in most parts of the country. As a gay American, I have heard more death threats than I can count, so it worries me when people with hateful and homophobic rhetoric are allowed easy access to guns. That’s why Students Demand Action and Moms Demand Action volunteers across the country are urging federal and state lawmakers to pass laws that close this dangerous gap.
I wonder what the rest of Channing’s life could have been like if he hadn’t had easy access to a gun that night. Perhaps he would have left Tennessee for college. Or started a business. Or fallen in love. These are the questions we’ll never know the answer to — that’s why I hope all those around me will join the gun violence prevention movement.
Channing deserved to live to see a future where he could be who he was without the threat of gun violence. We all deserve that.
Carrson Everett is a volunteer with the Tennessee chapter of Students Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.