After more than two years of quiet work involving suicide prevention specialists, gun rights advocates, health care providers and others, Washington State’s ambitious Safer Homes Suicide Awareness project officially kicks off this Sunday, Sept. 10 at Franklin Field in Aberdeen.
The program begins at 9 a.m. and includes information on firearms safety, some of the warning signs of suicide, free gun safety devices and a drawing for a gun safe worth $800, according to the Aberdeen Daily World.
The effort has been championed by a coalition of interest groups, not the least of which is gun owners. Alan Gottlieb, founder and executive vice president of the Bellevue-based Second Amendment Foundation and chairman of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms has been one of the key movers, along with University of Washington Associate Professor Jennifer Stuber, co-founder of Forefront Suicide Prevention.
In Washington State, roughly 80 percent of the annual firearms fatalities are suicides. That’s above the national average.
In 2015, Washington reported 209 homicides, of which 141 involved firearms, according to the FBI Uniform Crime Report for that year.
Data from the Washington State Department of Health shows 160 firearm-related homicides for that year, but a stunning 535 suicides involving guns.
Anti-gunners typically lump homicides and suicides together and call it “gun violence,” but others look at suicides differently. One certainly doesn’t combat suicides the same way as homicides, and the solutions or preventive measures are definitely different. Homicide is a crime, while suicide is an emotional/mental health issue.
Gottlieb became involved in the process months before a program proposal was presented to the State Legislature in Olympia in 2016. He and Stuber, and a handful of others held a series of quiet meetings that also involved State Rep. Tina Orwall, a Des Moines Democrat. He also traveled to Olympia twice to testify.
The education effort includes a training video for firearms retailers.
Perhaps the most refreshing surprise in this project for Evergreen State gun rights activists is that it’s not a gun control campaign, and it has involved genuine gun safety experts – retailers and gun owners, themselves – literally from the start. One might even suggest the process was educational for everyone.
According to an article in the UW News, the rate of suicide nationally has increased over the past 15 years, with the two most at-risk groups being adolescent girls and middle-aged men. It is the second group that could be most directly affected by this program.
This year, the project entered the funding stage, and a suicide prevention training requirement for pharmacists as part of their license renewal took effect.
This Safer Homes project may not be the cure-all, but its advocates see it as a promising approach to a serious problem.