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Thursday, October 8, 2015
Gun shops work with anti-suicide program
Asking gun shop owners to not sell a gun is a big request sometimes, but this time, it's for an important reason.
Meghan Francone knew it would be a hard sell: Going into a gun shop in her small town and asking the owner to sell fewer guns.
"There's always hesitation when you walk in, and you start talking about a gun," Francone said. "You're always going to get different emotions and different feelings."
But Francone kept with the mission as part of the Colorado Gun Shop Program. She is the executive director of the nonprofit organization Reaching Everyone Preventing Suicide. She is also a person who has both experienced the loss of a loved one to suicide and has attempted to take her own life as well.
"All I know is that I didn't' want to live anymore," she recalls of her teenage years.
Francone survived her attempt, but her brother-in-law did not. He took his own life when he was 14 years old. The difference in the two incidents, Francone says, is the fact that her brother-in-law used a firearm to take his own life. Suicide by firearm, she says, is fatal more often than other means. It's the reasoning behind the Colorado Gun Shop Project.
"If someone is suicidal, and you can restrict their access to a firearm, which is the most lethal method of suicide attempts, that's the crux of the change," Jarrod Hindman, who works as the Violence and Suicide Prevention Section Manager for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said.
The health department provided grants for the Gun Shop Project, which was based on a program out of New Hampshire. In it, gun shop owners are asked to display information on suicide resources. They're also given information on the warning signs of suicide and asked to consider not selling a gun to a person who may be suicidal.
The initial phase of the Colorado Gun Shop project took place from July 2014 to June 2015 in rural communities across the state. In those rural communities, there are higher incidents of suicide by firearm. For example, state health records show, from 2008 to 2012, 77 percent of suicides in Moffat County were done with the use of a firearm. In Montrose County on the western slope, 79 percent of suicide deaths during that same period involved firearms. The figure is roughly 30 percent higher than the national average.
"Our gun shops are supporting us in handing out literature," Francone said. "A lot of our gun shop owners are already comfortable with not selling a gun if someone was exhibiting clues and warning signs."
Dozens of gun shops agreed to participate in the program, but Francone is well aware that her well-meaning request can also spark a heated conversation over gun control.
"We feel like this is not a political statement," Francone said. "We own guns, we are a part of the gun community ... But with that, we're also responsible gun owners."
The project also seeks to educate gun owners about the importance of securing guns that may be within the reach of someone inside the home who may be suicidal.
Dick Abramson, general manager of Centennial Gun Club, says his business knows the importance of offering a secure place to store a gun out of the reach of someone who may be in emotional distress. His shop has not been approached to participate in the Colorado Gun Shop project, but Centennial Gun Club would be willing to be a part of the program.
"We would like to be participate in a solid program," he said. "I think one of the challenges is that we're not psychologists here."
Abramson says it would be difficult for some gun shop owners to decide whether to sell to someone based on their perceived psychological state. He thinks that more studies involving guns and suicide need to include the opinions and experiences of gun shop owners.
"[Researchers] need to involve more people in the gun industry to help them become more knowledgeable," he said.
Dr. Michael Victoroff agrees that researchers need to seek out more opinions of gun owners and supporters of the gun industry. He's part of a study in its beginning stages that could look at doctors' knowledge of guns and how it relates to suicide figures. As a gun owner, Victoroff likes the idea of the Colorado Gun Shop Project sharing information with gun shop owners as long as they have a choice.
"The core of that idea is that this is voluntary," he said.
Of the rural gun shops that have volunteered to participate in the pilot program, Francone thinks they've made a difference.
"We've heard people say 'If we remove guns, [suicidal people] are just going to find another way,'" she said. "Well, some people may find other means, [but] all of those means are less lethal than a firearm."