Safer Homes, Suicide Aware, led by Forefront Suicide Prevention and the Second Amendment Foundation, traveled to the Spokane Gun Show & Flea Market at the Spokane County Fairgrounds and Expo on April 7-8.
Safer Homes, Suicide Aware is the work of a coalition comprised of firearms retailers, second amendment rights groups, health care providers, and suicide prevention experts who came together around a single goal to save lives. The initiative began in 2016, when the Washington state legislature passed House Bill 2793 to enact this public awareness campaign. This collaborative public/private partnership is co-chair by Jennifer Stuber, co-founder and faculty and policy director at Forefront Suicide Prevention, and Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Second Amendment Foundation.
A team of staff, community organizers and volunteers participated in the gun show, and had the opportunity to engage in informative conversations while giving out lock boxes for firearms and medications for free.
Each attendee 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).
“I would talk to people and show them the devices,” Forefront MSW Practicum student, Delaney Knottnerus said. “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.
This was Safer Homes third gun show. The campaign’s new banner reads: ‘Stop by and have a conversation that may save a life.’
“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 have to make sure I keep my responses neutral and focused around the issue, which is trying to save lives and lower rates of suicide.”
Through the Safer Homes Coalition, Forefront found common ground around the issue of suicide prevention with the gun owning community.
“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?,” Program Manager, Marny Lombard said. “In all cases, the conversations are intense, and I found myself making on-the-spot decisions about what information will be most helpful. We do a fair amount of meeting people where they are.”
Some of the topics discussed at the event included preventing unauthorized access to firearms and medications to put a barrier between someone who may be trying to end their life during a mental health crisis.
People want to have their self-defense firearms available, and so often leave them unlocked and loaded on a bedside table or drawer. Finding alternatives such as biometric and other quick access safes is important to prevent unauthorized access. Many attendees are surprised to learn that 78 percent of gun deaths in Washington state are suicides.
The initiative also covers locking up medications because most people don’t and instead keep them in an unlocked medicine cabinet. Disposing of expired or unused medications can help prevent suicide and overdoses.
Additionally, many suicides are impulsive, and any practical barrier you can put between someone in a suicidal crisis and the lethal means they intend to use can help create a buffer of safety. With that extra passage of time, the sense of crisis can ease and the person may realize that they need to seek help.
There were a lot of interactions throughout the day, demonstrating the varying discourse around guns and peoples’ opinions.
Knottnerus had one man come back to the Forefront booth to thank her again before he left. He told her that getting the locking device was the best part of the gun show for him. She also talked to a group of three active service members.
“We discussed the importance about making sure their weapons were locked up when they weren’t carrying them,” Knottnerus said. “I told them my brother had served and unfortunately lost one of the men under him to suicide. They were very receptive to our conversation and made sure to put the LEARN™ suicide awareness card into their wallets.”
Safer Homes volunteers also gave out step-by-step resources about how to have those conversations with someone thinking about suicide, stressing that everyone has a role to play in suicide prevention.
“If the fire alarm goes off right now, we all know what to do and how to evacuate the building,” Knottnerus said. “People don’t know what to do if someone in their life starts talking about suicide, so we can help them be prepared with simple steps using Forefront’s LEARN resource.”
The Safer Homes booth at the event was donated by the gun show manager, Wes Knodel.
“He was touched by what we were trying to do,” Knottnerus said. “He unfortunately lost someone in his life to suicide and wanted to help us in our goal of saving lives.”
Suicide also impacts a lot of people, either directly or indirectly though someone they know. Events such as the gun show allow for people to talk about suicide and get support and resources if they need it.
“There was a grandfather who was still grieving for his grandson who had died many years before by suicide,” 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 limit unauthorized access to lethal means. 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.”
Story by Praphanit Doowa.