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September 11, 2023

In September Especially, Be Ready for a Brave Conversation

By Joe Bartozzi

September is National Suicide Prevention Month, a poignant reminder that suicide is a tragedy that touches many people. It is important – and hopeful – to note, however, that suicide is preventable.

The firearm industry devotes energy and resources to reducing these tragedies. Our efforts are ongoing every day, but September is a special opportunity to remind everyone of the importance of industry initiatives that help to reduce firearm-related deaths.

Reducing Barriers to Help

Firearms and Suicide Prevention Brochure
Firearms and Suicide Prevention Brochure (PDF)

Overall firearm-related deaths in America were slightly lower in 2022 than a year before, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, suicides involving firearms were slightly higher. Nearly 27,000 Americans died by suicide with a firearm last year. Breaking through the stigma of talking about mental health and asking for help is hard enough. Efforts to penalize those who may be able to offer help, though, are counterproductive and harmful.

Earlier this month, NPR reported on states that have laws that regulate the procedures for when an individual voluntarily gives a firearm to a family member, friend or local firearm retailer to temporarily store it for them. Unfortunately, many of these efforts end up hurting the cause.

“Many customers back out once they hear that they’ll need to pass a background check when they come back to get their gun. Getting treatment doesn’t necessarily disqualify someone from getting the gun back, but the questions are confusing, especially for someone in crisis that is unsure about what mental health treatment they may seek out,” the report stated. “Federal law doesn’t prohibit people from storing guns for each other on a personal basis. But in some places, like New York and Massachusetts, state laws can make it almost impossible. The only way around it is for both people to go to a gun shop together and do the paperwork for an ownership transfer and repeat that process again when the original owner wants the gun back.”

When I testified before Congress on proposed federal firearm storage mandates I made my beliefs clear: the message and messenger matter.  It is our belief that education, rather than legislation, will have a more profound and meaningful impact on preventing these types of tragedies.

Real Solutions to Reduce Tragedies

Heavy-handed laws forcing government mandates and unnecessary red tape are not helpful. It’s why the firearm industry devotes such significant resources to efforts to reduce suicide. In September, we’re proud to launch new video testimonials, as part of our Real Solutions. Safer Communities® initiative, from leaders within the firearm industry who know firsthand what is effective, and what is not. The videos are impactful.

“I don’t blame the gun for what happened to my mom,” says Kass Wojcik in a new Real Solutions suicide prevention awareness video.

Kass explains her grief and frustration as she was healing from the loss of her mother. In that healing, she learned of the efforts the firearm industry has taken to prevent suicide. Kass has gone on to cofound The Modern Day Sniper and The Modern Day Rifleman with her husband, Caylen.

“Sometimes people don’t reach out for help and that’s the real travesty with the whole situation,” Caylen Wojcik says in his own Real Solutions video testimonial. Caylen is a former Marine Scout-Sniper, an Iraq war veteran and a Purple Heart recipient.

“When you are that tight with someone, you can’t help but experience their pain and experience their suffering… I have lost a really, really close friend to that and I’ve come close to losing several others as a result of it,” he explains.

“It makes me feel really good to know that the National Shooting Sports Foundation is partnering with suicide prevention programs to reduce the stigmatism that is out there about suicide and giving people the courage, if you will, to reach out, say ‘I need help,’ and not be afraid,” Caylen tells viewers.

Kass added in her testimonial, “I think it’s awesome that the firearms industry is investing in suicide prevention. It’s the awareness we all need. It’s giving people resources and information and motivation to reach out and get the support that someone might need in a time of crisis.”

The Wojciks’ messages are powerful and worthy of watching. So is Austin Harlan’s explanation of how he and his staff at The Range in Yakima, Wash., were able to use the training provided by NSSF and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and stop a potential tragedy at his business. The awareness of his staff and the protocols were able to get an individual suffering a mental health crisis to local authorities.

Real Impact on Saving Lives

The Real Solutions initiative is multi-faceted. It’s not just videos and raising awareness but also constant work through meaningful partnerships for real, meaningful results. The firearm industry is proud to partner with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Through these partnerships, we helped develop suicide prevention toolkits for firearm retailers, shooting range operators and customers to help them understand the risk factors and warning signs related to suicide, and to know where to find help and encourage secure firearm storage options. We are keenly aware of the statistics that indicate that our military men and women are especially susceptible to mental health struggles after they’ve given so much in service to their country.

We launched our Project ChildSafe® initiative in 1999 as a nationwide effort to promote firearm responsibility and provide safety education to all gun owners, as well as young adults and children. Through partnerships with more than 15,000 law enforcement agencies nationwide, the program has provided more than 40 million free firearm safety kits to gun owners in all 50 states and the five U.S. territories to help prevent firearms accidents, theft, and misuse. That includes in the home when someone may be struggling with mental health difficulties.

These specific initiatives, along with several other industry efforts, have had a real, positive impact on reducing firearm tragedies. We know these efforts work and we will continue the hard work to ensure these tragedies are reduced even more – not just throughout September but year-round.

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Tags: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Project ChildSafe Real Solutions. Safer Communities Suicide Prevention Suicide prevention Month

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