Pilot program addresses high rate of suicide by firearm in Northwest Colorado

Teresa Ristow
Suicides by firearm in Routt and Moffat counties account for 71 and 77 percent of all suicides, respectively. Statewide, about half of suicides are by firearm.
Courtesy Photo

— Studies show that restricting access to guns for at-risk people dramatically reduces the chance that the person will die of suicide by any means.

Armed with this information in mind, the state of Colorado has funded a pilot program with gun shops and suicide prevention organizations aimed at reducing gun access for individuals contemplating or at-risk for committing suicide.

Along with a few other locations, the pilot program began last summer in Routt and Moffat counties, where the rate of suicides by gun well outpaces the state average.

Statewide, about half of suicides are carried out with a gun, while the percentage of suicides by gun in Routt County is 71 percent, and in Moffat County is 77 percent, according to stats from 2008 to 2012.

The program aims to educate gun owners and gun shop owners to identify warning signs of an unstable person who may want to harm themselves, and also provides posters and brochures to educate shop owners and customers about locking up guns and restricting access for at-risk people.

“I don’t think any gun shop wants to sell guns to people who aren’t stable,” said Meghan Francone, executive director of Reaching Everyone Preventing Suicide, the program’s local sponsor.

Francone, who is the owner of several guns and a member of the NRA, said the program is not meant to be political or anti-gun, but instead a common sense approach to preventing suicide.

According to research presented in part by Catherine Barber, director of the Means Matter Campaign at Harvard and co-founder of the National Center for Suicide Prevention Training, removing access to lethal means, including guns, has been proven to reduce the number of suicides in a given study group countless times.

“Reducing the availability of highly lethal and commonly used suicide methods has been associated with declines in suicide rates of as much as 30 to 50 percent in other countries,” wrote Barber and co-author Matthew Miller in an article in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine.

Barber will speak during REPS’ annual Wellness Conference in Steamboat on Friday, October 23.

Francone said that it’s impossible to control all of the environmental factors like employment, relationships and long winters that contribute to a person feeling “a loss of hope.”

What is possible to control, Francone said, is a person’s immediate access to lethal means, particularly guns, which were responsible for 27 of the 38 suicides in Routt County and 17 of 22 in suicides in Moffat County between 2008 and 2012.

Francone said the program aims to find ways to increase the time and distance between a suicidal person and lethal means, primarily through education of gun owners.

“This is just common sense,” said Francone, whose brother-in-law died of suicide by firearm in 2011. “If we can increase that time and distance, we’re saving lives.”

Francone said the program has received a better response with a pawn shop and at Murdoch’s in Moffat County, but wasn’t well received in Routt County by gun shop Elk River Guns.

Elk River Guns owner Ken Constantine said he respected the REPS organization and is interested in working with REPS and the local mental health community to address suicides but disagreed with the approach of the Colorado Gun Shop Project.

To reach Teresa Ristow, call 970-871-4206, email or follow her on Twitter @TeresaRistow

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