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I'm a Sociology Professor at the University of Toronto. I write about gun violence, health disparities, and Hip Hop culture. When I'm not doing research, I like pop-locking, swimming, and learning Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. This is my first blog. I hope you like it.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Dad Posts Selfie Before Killing Himself and Daughter: What about guns in suicide?

One of my students just tweeted a heartbreaking murder-suicide story.  Merrick McKoy, shot and killed his 18-month daughter, Mia McKoy-Phanthavongsa, and then turned the gun on himself.

In a nutshell, McKoy was upset that his girlfriend was going to leave him.  He then announced the murder-suicide on social media.  He wrote to his estranged girlfriend on Facebook, "I told u I can't live without u lol u thought I was just joking now me n Mia out this bitch." He then took a selfie with his daughter and killed her and then himself.

This story has stirred up so many feelings in me.  Part of me wants to understand McKoy's mindset.  He must have been in a terrible place.  Love and heartbreak can make us all do stupid things that we regret.  But, I've never heard of something quite like this.

I also can't imagine the pain that McKoy's estranged girlfriend, Kim Phanthavongsa, must feel.  What kind of guilt is she feeling?  What kinds of support does she have?

This is a tragedy all around and it raises additional questions about gun control and suicide.

Presently, the national conversation on gun violence and control focuses on the role of firearms in interpersonal violence.  School shootings, gang violence, and other kinds of homicide situations are at the forefront of our public debates on gun control. There are powerful lobbies and interest groups, millions of research dollars, and a growing academic literature around the causes and consequences of gun-related homicides.

This focus is myopic.  Most gun deaths are suicides.  In 2011, there were 32,163 gun deaths in the US: 11,101 of these were homicides; 19,766 of these were suicides.  Put another way, gun suicides happen at a rate that is nearly twice that of gun homicides.

I wonder why suicide by gun isn't part of the conversation on gun violence and control?  Is it because suicide isn't a tantalizing subject for the news or policymakers?  Is it because in most suicide situations, victims only harm themselves?  Why do most public conversations about gun violence neglect the ways that people use them to fatally harm themselves?


  1. "Is it because in most suicide situations, victims only harm themselves?"

    Maybe, if you are an orphan and a hermit, you only harm yourself by committing suicide. But I guarantee that suicide victims' families and friends feel harmed, as much and maybe even more by the act of suicide as by the act of murder or accidental death.

  2. Good point. You are absolutely right about that.

  3. Considering your other questions, I think gun suicides don't get the attention other gun violence receives because of our attitudes toward suicide victims. I spent years as a firefighter, whose job included responding to medical alarms. From what I observed, in the aftermath of both suicides and murders, suicide victims are objects of scorn and derision; victims of gun violence by others are offered compassion and sympathy.

  4. Hi Richard,
    I think you're onto something about the ways we see different kinds of victims. But, I am not sure if gun victims (particularly those in the most dangerous neighborhoods) receive compassion and sympathy. A big part of my work has been on the kinds of stigma that victims face from their employers and the criminal justice system once they have been injured in a shooting. Anyways, thanks for responding to my post. Hope to hear more from you in the future.