Warm resources: Limiting access to lethal means | SteamboatToday.com

Warm resources: Limiting access to lethal means

A collection of guns are displayed at the Walmart in Steamboat Springs.
Austin Colbert

— Apart from numerous targeted efforts to prevent suicide through mental health support and education, REPS is also putting effort into initiatives that will reduce a person’s access to lethal means — specifically firearms.

Routt County’s rate of about 71 percent of suicides completed using a gun is the third highest of all counties in Colorado, lower than only neighboring Moffat County and Montrose County, which had 77 percent and 79 percent of suicides completed using a gun, respectively.

Studies from communities outside the United States have shown that removing access to a popular, highly lethal means for suicide such as a specific pain reliever or poison has dramatically reduced suicide rates, according to Cathy Barber, a researcher with Harvard’s Injury Control Research Center and a speaker at REPS’ annual wellness conference in October.

Barber’s research also points out that most suicide attempts are part of same-day crisis and that people who survive an attempt are statistically unlikely to ultimately die of suicide — all evidence that suggests creating time and space between an at-risk person and lethal means could save lives.

Limiting the access to lethal means is one of the goals of the Colorado Gun Shop Project, a state program piloted in Routt County that aims to instruct firearm retailers on how to prevent suicide by avoiding selling or renting guns to customers who may appear at-risk.

Elk River Guns owner Ken Constantine said he and his staff already employ a multi-faceted approach to assess the mental stability of a customer, in addition to following state laws for background checks, which deny purchase for people facing an active or permanent restraining order, and those who’ve been ruled mentally defective by a judge.

Constantine said he profiles first-time customers he hasn’t met and looks for signs that they’re nervous or might be purchasing the firearm for someone else.

“We are paying attention to our customers,” Constantine said. “I already do that. But you can not ask me to assume the role of a mental health professional.”

What Constantine believes should happen is a collaboration with Mind Springs, the region’s mental health provider, to identify at-risk individuals and place their names on a private, temporary list that would ban them from purchasing a firearm.

While healthcare’s HIPAA privacy protections wouldn’t allow counselors or psychiatrists to give out names automatically, they could ask clients or patients to acknowledge the crisis they are in and give permission to be added to the list.

Constantine said he’s been “stonewalled” when it comes to moving forward with the idea, which he said originally came about during a meeting with local mental health professionals a few years ago.

“It’s such a no brainer, I am appalled that Northwest Colorado mental health has not acted on this,” he said. “We’ve got a working idea that is legal, that protects people’s privacy. In the suicide prevention field, we need to be partnering with mental health, and they need to be partnering with us.”

Mind Springs region director Tom Gangel said a similar approach was piloted more than four years ago, in which staff asked at-risk clients to self-report or allow the staff to report to gun stores that a firearm should not be sold to the individual.

Gangel said he remembers only one person agreeing to the reporting, leading the pilot program to end.

He said that because many people already own or have access to guns, his staff focuses on talking to patients about the safekeeping of guns with friends or family during a crisis.

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

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