Nicole Xu for NPR
July 26, 20185:00 AM ET
Nicole Xu for NPR
Nicole Xu for NPR
July 26, 20185:00 AM ET
The Safer Homes, Suicide Aware public education campaign reached more than 250 firearms owners at the Spokane Gun Show & Flea Market, held at the Spokane County Fairgrounds and Expo on April 7-8. With few exceptions, these attendees walked away with free locking equipment for firearms and medications.
Safer Homes staff and volunteers talked with attendees about their current storage practices for firearms and medications and about suicide loss. The conversations are intended to raise awareness of suicide in Washington’s communities and to help change practices around safely storing firearms and medications.
The initiative is the result of collaborative work by the Safer Homes Coalition, a group of firearms retailers, Second Amendment rights groups, health care providers, and suicide prevention experts. The coalition’s single goal is to save lives. Coalition co-chairs are Jennifer Stuber, cofounder of Forefront Suicide Prevention, and Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Second Amendment Foundation.
Each attendee chose a firearm locking device (a lock box or Life Jacket Firearm Locking Safety Case) and a medication device (a drug deactivation pouch or medications lock).
“I would talk to people and show them the devices,” said Forefront MSW Practicum student Delaney Knottnerus. “I would explain how we are a suicide prevention coalition, made up of 43 partners across Washington state, whose goal is to limit unauthorized access to firearms and medication in homes.
“When you’re at an event like this, you meet and get to know the vendors around you,” Knottnerus said. “People will ask about my own personal beliefs, and I work to keep my responses focused around the issue, which is trying to save lives and lower rates of suicide.”
The task force began in 2016, after the Washington legislature passed House Bill 2793. Forefront and the firearms community found common ground around the issue of suicide prevention. “You never know when you begin a conversation how it will go. Is this person still grieving a suicide loss? Or is he intently focused on Second Amendment issues and more interested in who we represent?” said program manager Marny Lombard. “We do a fair amount of meeting people where they are.”
Locked storage of firearms and medications can put a barrier between someone in a mental health crisis and who may move toward an impulsive suicide. With that extra passage of time, the sense of crisis can ease and the person may decide to seek help. The initiative’s emphasis on locking up medications and disposing of expired or unused medications also will help to prevent overdoses and addiction.
This was Safer Homes third gun show in Washington. Spokane Gun Show promoter Wes Knodel hosted Safer Homes at no cost. Knodel spoke of a suicide loss in his own life.
Knottnerus told of one man who returned to the Safer Homes booth to thank her and tell her that getting the locking device was the best part of the gun show.
Suicide impacts many people, some with close losses and others who know a friend with a suicide loss.
“There was a grandfather who was still grieving for his grandson who had died many years before,” Lombard said. “When I told him that I lost my son five years ago, he reached out and hugged me across the table – and we both had tears in our eyes.”
Safer Homes, Suicide Aware exceeded its goal of distributing over 250 free firearm and medication locking devices.
Knottnerus said. “People love their guns and want to have them for recreation and self-defense. Our goal is to make sure we help them limit unauthorized access. Putting a practical barrier between a suicidal person and the means they plan to use to end their life can interrupt their path to suicide.”
The young man was alone when he walked into Robin Ball’s gun shop.
Ball, the owner of Sharp Shooting Indoor Range and Gunshop, recognized him because he often came in to shoot with his uncle. He rented a gun to take out on the range. It was a normal transaction.
Ball said she believes he waited until the range was quiet. Then he turned the gun on himself and took his own life.
“It rocks your world. You kind of look at that and say, ‘What could we do to stop it?’” she said.
As student activists from Parkland, Florida have put a national spotlight on school shootings and gun violence, an unlikely coalition of public health workers and members of the gun industry have been working together to stop a far more common, far less talked about cause of deaths involving firearms: suicide.
According to a Spokesman-Review analysis of state death records, 4,164 people in Washington ended their lives with a firearm between 2010 and 2017. That accounts for almost half of all suicides and 78 percent of gun deaths. Read More…
Last weekend, the Puyallup Gun Show brought together suicide prevention advocates and the firearms community. Nearly 300 people held conversations with the Safer Homes, Suicide Aware team at the Washington Arms Collectors event at the Washington State Fairgrounds. Participants learned that firearm and medication locking devices can save a life from suicide.
The event transformed hearts and minds, said Kathleen Gilligan. She and 14 other volunteers distributed nearly 600 free items along with a public health message: Locking and limiting access to medications and firearms can save a life long before a suicidal crisis occurs.
Gilligan spoke with a veteran who insisted he had no need to lock up his guns. One of his adult children is a police officer, and his grandchildren are well-versed in gun safety. None fit the “type” to die by suicide, the man said.
“I quietly told him that my 14-year-old son, a trained marksman and hunter, died by suicide using a firearm,” said Gilligan. “His entire expression changed and next thing I knew he was signing up for a free lock box, had worked his way around the table, and was talking about medication safety. I suspect that he will tell others what he learned from Safer Homes at the gun show.”
Each participant could choose one firearm locking device (a lock box or firearm life jacket locking safety case) and one medication device (a drug deactivation pouch or medication lock).
Plenty of patrons said they already keep their firearms secured. “When you have seven kids in the house, your way of thinking changes,” said WAC member Don Davison, who described the locking protections he uses – including separating holsters, magazines, and ammunition.
However, most participants hadn’t thought about suicide as a danger. Many paused for more than a few beats when asked how they would protect a loved one who became at risk for suicide.
Many also learned, to their surprise, that nearly 80 percent of firearm deaths in this state are the result of suicide.
The Second Amendment Foundation and Washington Arms Collectors were instrumental in this event’s success. Several manufacturers generously discounted equipment for this campaign, including NW Safe, Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals, MSE Worldwide, and Gatekeeper Innovation.
NW Safe also provided a Liberty Safe HDX-350 biometric Smart Vault for a raffle, which Millicent Baxter of Roy, WA won.
“Most gun owners are about gun safety, so this wonderful event will hopefully go a long way in raising awareness to help us prevent suicide,” Baxter said.
Safer Homes, Suicide Aware exceeded its goal of distributing 300 free firearm locking devices at its first gun show and now looks forward to taking this life-saving public health message to an Eastern Washington gun show in the spring. To learn more, visit SaferHomesCoalition.org.