To Cabela’s -
I hated you in January.
Our mother had been missing for just a few hours but we knew something was very wrong. She didn’t show up to her swim class with a beloved group of women who called themselves the Mermaids. She had not firmed up plans to see her beautiful grandson for their weekly date. She was unreachable.
Later that day we found a gun receipt showing she had purchased a firearm from you a few days prior. The Ann Arbor police found her body later that evening.
I blamed you at first.
They say you go through stages of grief following a suicide and that survivors can and often will blame the victim. Thankfully, I was not mad at mom. I was mad at you.
You’re a publicly traded company. You market yourself as a family friendly-adventure store offering goods for outdoor activities. But you also sell guns. And these guns aren’t always used for sport.
I blamed gun control.
Women over the age of 40 are more prone to depression. My mother had a history of mental illness documented in her medical records. She was divorced less than five years prior to her death. She had her downs. Yet we don’t do background checks prior to selling guns today. We don’t confirm if the purchaser has been diagnosed with a mental illness. We don’t require a waiting period in all states.
It was your fault. It was our collective fault. It was the fault of our broken political system, which is so divided we can’t make real change when it’s beyond clear that change is needed—It was the fault of NRA and gun lobbyists who want to preserve all gun rights at any cost.
Fast forward to August 6th, as I write this.
I’m not mad at you, Cabela’s. I no longer like the idea of your store and will probably avoid association at all costs in my lifetime, but I realize you’re just a business. It is not your intention to sell firearms to individuals who want to hurt themselves.
I’ve realized that gun control is an important step, not a panacea. There are other pieces of the puzzle, but we aren’t talking about them productively.
Mental health advocates and others rightly take issue with the constant refrain that we have a “mental illness” problem: mental illness is not a major risk factor for committing gun violence. But it’s helpful to better understand what people often mean when they say “mental illness.”
Risky behaviors, previous violence, and a history of repeated trauma aren’t mental illness—but can be a predictor of violence. There are some indications if a person is in a state of mind to harm themselves or others. When people talk casually about a mental illness problem in relation to guns, they’re probably defining it loosely and including a range of people who are not well.
But our system is not designed for wellness. We have invested heavily in for-profit prisons while our mental health resources are stretched to the brink. We barely have the capacity to respond to the most acute mental health crises, and don’t have a great system for helping those who engage in risky behaviors, committed previous violence, or experienced a history of repeated trauma.
We have heard from mental health professionals who study school shooters. They tell us that kids who commit violence do often struggle with mental illness, including depression. And the struggle is exacerbated when someone suffers alone. We have heard from mental health professionals who treated kids who went on to commit mass murder at schools (1). These professionals have not legally been able to do anything even if they believe an individual will commit a crime unless that individual clearly states they have taken action to hurt others.
I am not advocating for any kind of incarceration before a crime is committed like we’re living in some Black Mirror episode. But can’t we agree that more resources are needed to address this growing concern?
Calling for attention to the “mental illness” problem isn’t necessarily meant to stigmatize or distract from the need for gun control. It’s often meant to call attention to the broad array of people we’re not seeing, we’re not helping. Keeping a gun out of someone’s hands can absolutely prevent violence. So can helping people before the point that they seek a gun, or after they are effectively prevented from obtaining one.
I do still strongly believe in gun reform. We shouldn’t be selling large magazines and semi-automatic weapons to the public. A waiting period should be a requirement in all states. How about more progressive screening options? Instead of a depression litmus test, how about retailers ask a purchaser if they are thinking about harming themselves? Medical professionals are ethically required to ask this if they interpret a patient may be depressed—and they’re not handing out weapons.
We must do everything we can to save lives. That means gun control. It also means asking why, and responding with proactive solutions. Shouldn't a mother experiencing depression have a community looking out for her? Shouldn't we reckon with the hatred, anger, and dangerous ideologies that motivated three mass murders in the U.S. in the past week, and commit to addressing all of it?
I hope you’re still with me.
If you are, I’m asking that Cabela’s donate $340, the amount of my mother’s gun purchase, to help these issues. Maybe you can spare some more funds. Maybe you can positively impact how guns are purchased. At least in your stores. It would be a great start.
Natalie holds a BSE of Industrial Engineering from the University of Michigan. She is passionate about health and women's empowerment in addition to rescue pups and enjoying life.
She launched She's Independent months after losing her mother to suicide. The business and community has an underlying focus on holistic and mental health and addresses all aspects empowerment from the personal to the professional.
You can read more about her grief & growth journey here.
Hear us dive into the Life-Death-Life cycle through a webinar accessible here.
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(1) I initially learned about this topic through the NYT Daily podcast and then confirmed it with our contributor Nicole Lippman-Barile, Ph.D., Licensed Clinical Psychologist and founder of www.feedyourmental.com.