Many gun shop owners across Colorado, including Deaver Guns & Ammo in Holyoke, now display suicide prevention information as part of the Gun Shop Project, presenting separation from firearms as a basic safety measure for someone at risk of suicide. —Johnson Publications

Gun Shop Project focuses on prevention

    Customers at local gun shops may have noticed some new pamphlets at the counter during their latest firearm purchases — suicide prevention information, provided by Centennial Mental Health Center as part of the Gun Shop Project.
    “It’s about safety,” said Maranda Miller, community resource prevention specialist with Centennial. “Safety is never a bad thing.”
    Following a New Hampshire model, the Gun Shop Project is working to spread a very basic message to consumers: Putting time and distance between a suicidal person and a gun helps keep them safe. The awareness and prevention campaign focuses on the most logical avenues to reach the intended audiences by distributing materials to be displayed at gun shops, shooting ranges and hunter safety courses.
    Under the direction of the State Office of Suicide Prevention, the purpose is to collaborate with gun shop retailers, gun range owners and firearm safety course instructors to promote suicide prevention awareness, recognize suicidal behavior and limit the sale of firearms to any customer who is suicidal.
    Miller said that while some have questioned targeting gun owners for a suicide prevention campaign, the rationale is that guns are the most common and most lethal method of attempting suicide. “We know that gun owners are not more suicidal than the general public,” she stressed, “and we’re not asking gun shop owners to become mental health experts.”
    However, almost all gun shop owners have embraced the materials when Miller presented them. For every unintentional firearm death, there are 59 firearm suicides. For a gun shop owner to find out that a customer used their purchase for suicide is one of the most devastating things that can happen in the trade, Miller learned through her conversations with shop owners.
    Fliers about the 10 commandments of gun safety, including basic principles such as keeping one’s finger off the trigger until prepared to shoot, now tout an “11th commandment” — to consider temporary off-site storage of firearms if a family member is suicidal.
    For seller’s use, a tip sheet is provided to help staff identify “red flags” exhibited by customers purchasing firearms, and a similar pamphlet is displayed alongside the gun safety fliers for customers to take.
    “It’s more personal coming from shop owners,” said Miller. “Out here they usually know the people coming in. It means more for them to say ‘I’m worried about you’ than for it to come from a mental health specialist.”
    Now in the second year of the project, Miller at least knows that people have been taking the materials, as she has been having to restock them throughout northeast Colorado.
    While prevention work is hard to quantify, Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction has been tasked with the project’s evaluation, continuing to take feedback and adjust the campaign for maximum effectiveness.
    “Most suicides result from a short-term crisis,” said Miller. While there are of course exceptions to this, with some very determined individuals who may exhibit few of the traditional “red flags,” it is also true that others are ambivalent about suicide, meaning a greater chance for intervention exists. Having a few more people in the right place at the right time could very well help save a life.

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