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The Terrible Ties Between Guns and Suicide

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September 11, 2023

By Barrett Seaman–

Adriana Pentz thinks about and talks about her brother Luc a lot—not just because Luc passed away, far too early at age 30, not just because he died by suicide, but also because he killed himself with his own gun.

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Luc’s death on May 23, 2017 in the woods near his home in Connecticut has haunted Adriana since, but she has tried to turn the pain into something positive by speaking out about gun violence and suicide prevention.

This month, Adriana, a mother of two living in Sleepy Hollow, will be among those calling for action during Westchester County’s participation in National Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month. Highlighting the twin evils of gun violence and suicide follows last May’s recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month that saw the unveiling of a butterfly display at the Healing Garden at Ridge Road Park. Using the metaphor of the butterfly effect reflects the notion that even small changes of behavior can pull people back from the brink of suicide. During the month, one butterfly will be placed at the Healing Garden for every Westchester County resident who died by suicide over the past year. In 2022, 79 Westchester residents took their own lives.

Luc-John Pentz was a bright and capable young man who did well academically, had a good job after earning an MBA and was a competitive swimmer and rower. But his and Adriana’s childhood was difficult: they were two of four siblings raised in a single-parent household until circumstances forced them into foster care and split them apart. Their mother struggled with alcohol addiction. “We all kind of carried that childhood trauma with us into adulthood,” recalls Adriana, who had her own problems with alcohol before getting sober.

Adriana knew Luc had psychological issues, but it was only a year before his death that she discovered that he frequently carried a gun. “The first time I found out about it, we were going to my daughter’s dance recital.” The family gathered in the parking lot and were greeting each other. “When I hugged my brother, I felt something hard up against my rib cage.” Luc confirmed that it was a gun.

Luc-John Pentz at his sister Adriana’s wedding

“I was shocked. We were literally going into a children’s dance recital,” she said. Later, at her son’s third birthday, when she went to move Luc’s blazer from a table to make room for cupcakes, she again felt a hard weight. “When I confronted him about it, his answer to me was that he carried it for safety reasons, that he owned it legally. It was scary to me.”  Adriana and her siblings urged Luc to seek counseling, but he was not receptive. Thus, when he could not be reached for a few days that August, they contacted the police near his home. A search of his house turned up an empty gun case as well as another weapon. Not long afterwards, they found his body.

Two weeks later, as she walked through the TaSH farmers market at Patriots Park, Adriana came upon a table organized by Moms Demand Action. She began to share her story. They invited her to come to a meeting the following month, with about 75 people, seven to ten of whom she reckons were in one form or another survivors of gun violence. She was invited to post her brother’s information on a wall. As she did so, she was overwhelmed with grief. “Somebody came up and hugged me.”

She joined the local Moms Demand Action chapter and began her own healing process by speaking publicly about it. Soon thereafter, she discovered   Everytown Survivor Network Fellowship Program  and began to share her story. “In 2019 she participated in a local National Gun Violence Survivors Week event and told her story. This past summer, she spoke at the Shames JCC on the Hudson event. “I try to talk about my experience as much as possible, Adriana says. “When I do go to these events, there are people who have lost loved ones who come up to me and share. In many cases they have not talked about it before.”

“I also do presentations about gun security,” she adds. When parents bring their kids to a play date at another home, there are ways to assure themselves that they will be safe: are there guns in this house? Are they kept safely? “That should be a part of normal conversation,” she counsels, noting that 80% of school shootings involve a weapon taken from the shooter’s home.

Pentz (right) at one of her frequent presentations on gun violence

Her own career dovetails neatly with her role as an advocate. She works at the Mental Wellness Equity Center of Columbia University’s Department of Psychiatry, training lay people on how to screen and deliver intervention in cases of substance use, mental health disorders and suicide risk. In terms of public policy, Adriana is a strong advocate of red flag laws—an approach she did not know about before Luc’s death. “If I knew about it,” she allows, “I probably would have gone to a court.”

Asked if she thought Luc would have killed himself if he hadn’t had a gun, Adriana allowed that she would never know the answer “but I do know from my advocacy work that having a gun makes suicide attempts so much more lethal. Six out of every ten gun deaths are suicides, she recites. Moreover, only four percent of suicide attempts without guns involved are successful. Fully 90% of gun suicide attempts end in death,

As for claims by gun rights advocates that states with the strictest gun laws have no better records on gun violence than states that don’t. “Rates of gun violence are highest in states where gun laws are weak. In states where there are strong gun laws, you can see that there is a decrease in gun violence.”

Adriana’s pitch to groups who listen reflects the agenda of Moms Demand Action and other gun control advocacy groups and includes:

*secure firearm storage

*adoption of Child Access Prevention (CAP) laws

*red flag laws

*permits for purchase and waiting periods

*public awareness and purchaser education, and

*individual intervention when someone appears to be at risk of taking his or her own life. In such cases,  call or text 988, or visit 988lifeline.org/chat to talk to a counselor from the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, previously known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline provides 24/7, free, and confidential support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress anywhere in the US.

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