A Seattle Times op-ed urging readers to secure their firearms, ammunition, and prescription drugs to prevent suicide carries an interesting joint byline: It’s co-authored by Jennifer Stuber, a professor of social work at the University of Washington, and Alan Gottlieb, the longtime head of the Second Amendment Foundation, a pro-gun activist group.
“The pain of suicide is well-known in communities with high rates of firearms ownership,” reads the Wednesday opinion piece, which notes that 80 percent of gun deaths in Washington state are suicides.
For the past two years, Stuber and Gottlieb have served as co-chairs of a state-funded suicide prevention program called Safer Homes, Suicide Aware. The op-ed unveiled an initiative by the program to train firearms instructors and gun sellers to identify the signs of suicide, and provide free locking devices to secure weapons and prescription drugs in the home.
“Gun show organizers and gun dealers don’t have the background to know who might be at risk,” said Gottlieb in an interview. “No one wants to sell a gun to someone who might hurt themselves, but how do you know?”
Suicides account for the majority of firearms deaths, and research shows that the presence of a gun in the home can significantly increase suicide risk. One study found that 82 percent of teens who killed themselves with a firearm obtained the weapon from someone who lived in their home. Another, using more than two decades of data, determined that states’ rates of gun suicide declined in tandem with rates of gun ownership.
Yet only 15 percent of gun owners report having received information on how to mitigate the threat of suicide as part of firearm training courses. And gun-rights groups have traditionally been reluctant to acknowledge that access to firearms can present a danger to individuals in crisis.
Attitudes toward suicide prevention may be changing among gun industry leaders, however. In 2016, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a top trade group, announced an ambitious partnership with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. The two organizations pledged to prevent nearly 10,000 suicides over the next decade.
Gottlieb acknowledged that safe storage is a hard thing to sell to the pro-gun community, but said dealers he knows are interested. “This is all voluntary. That’s why it’s workable,” he said.