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Firearm safety - a piece to suicide prevention puzzle

Daily Herald - 2/12/2018

Laura Giles

It may seem like an unlikely partnership, but several groups in Utah are working together to try to reduce suicide by firearms.

Through collaboration with the Utah Shooting Sports Council, the Department of Public Safety, the Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health and the Utah Department of Health, steps are being taken to educate the public about this important issue.

Preliminary data from the Utah Department of Health shows 642 people died by suicide in the state during 2017. According to Douglas Thomas, director of the Utah Department of Human Services, firearms account for over 50 percent of suicide deaths in Utah.

Due to this fact, and research showing the effectiveness of means-restriction programs with other methods throughout the world, the groups have worked together to develop a multi-faceted, public health approach.

An important part of the approach is the suicide prevention module now part of the Utah Conceal Carry Firearm Training Curriculum. Those seeking to obtain a concealed carry permit will watch an educational video about firearms and suicide.

According to the Utah Firearm Suicide Prevention Training video, "Suicidal crises are often brief. People admitted to a hospital following a suicide attempt were asked how long they'd been thinking about suicide before carrying it out. Forty-eight percent said 10 minutes or less." This illustrates why keeping time and distance between a struggling person and firearms could prevent a suicide.

The effort also includes funding to purchase and distribute gun locks with pamphlets of information to emergency rooms, police stations and first responders.

"We have had such great support from everyone involved as our partners have recognized that everyone plays a role in suicide prevention," Thomas said.

"Some have said that it must be strange to sit in a room with suicide prevention advocates and mental health professionals, side by side with concealed carry folks and second amendment advocates. Yet, in my experience it has been one of the best and even most natural partnerships in this work," Thomas said. "For one, these two groups are not mutually exclusive. Many of us live in both groups, both as firearm owners and working in suicide prevention. We also have an incredible amount of common ground and shared goals - nobody wants their firearm to be used in a suicide death."

So, what can individuals and families do? First, take any threat of suicide seriously and do not leave the struggling person alone. Listen to and don't judge anyone you think may be in trouble. Take action, because suicidal crises are often time-sensitive. Taking safety precautions can help save a life.

Those who have firearms in the home should lock, limit and remove. Store guns safely and securely when not in use. Guns and ammunition can be locked up in separate locations to limit accessibility. Consider temporary off-site storage, if a family member might be suicidal. If someone in the home is having thoughts of suicide, disassemble the gun or ask someone to store it temporarily. Police departments will do this and some gun shops will free of charge.

"Firearm owners and instructors are the right messengers to talk about learning the warning signs on suicide and taking steps to lock, limit, and remove firearms during a suicidal crisis," Thomas said.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember is there is hope. In fact, according to Thomas, 90 percent of people who make an attempt and survive, go on to live long productive lives and do not end up dying from suicide later. "There are people who can help and there is hope," he said.


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