Three years ago, suicide prevention workers in Colorado were at a wits end. Suicide rates in the state had been high for decades, and nothing public health experts tried to bring them down seemed to be working.
So state officials — after years of treating firearms as the enemy, as they account for more than half of all suicide deaths in the nation — decided to try something new: partnering with gun shops and dealers to end the scourge of gun-based suicide.
The Gun Shop Project was established with the reason that it’s more effective to work with the gun community to try to prevent suicide, rather than against it.
The project involves handing out literature about gun safety and suicides hotlines. It’s now one of 20 similar projects across the country (New Hampshire’s was the first.) And it all has an unlikely ally: The gun industry, which supports the programs with materials through its trade group, the National Shooting Sports Foundation.
That alone makes some suicide prevention workers uncomfortable, as does the fact that the materials the gun shop projects hand out talk about safety measures like gun locks and temporary off-site storage of firearms — but nothing about getting rid of guns altogether.
When meeting with gun dealers, volunteers with the project talk about the risks of gun-based suicide, but they don’t press the point that guns are a uniquely dangerous method — far more likely to result in death than other means.
VICE News went to Grand Junction, Colorado to see what the effort to bring gun dealers into the suicide-prevention battle looks like — and to ask if working closely with gun dealers on suicide means giving up on the larger fight.
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