Firearms have long been a part of Utah’s culture. They are also the leading methods used in suicides in the state. It’s a problem that has brought health and safety advocates and the gun advocacy community together to work to prevent these tragedies.
Working toward safe gun storage
Safe gun storage ensures that guns are inaccessible to youth and other individuals who may be at heightened risk for suicide. Intermountain Healthcare has been working with the Utah Shooting Sports Council to promote proper gun storage education and mechanisms that can potentially save lives.
“Utah gun owners and gun groups are important partners in suicide prevention efforts. By working together we can make a difference in reducing death by suicide and unintentional injury through promoting and enabling safe firearm storage and education. We are friends helping friends,” said Karlee Kump, Intermountain community health specialist.
“As gun owners, we are proud to be part of an effort that makes families safer and reduces suicide risk, and respects second amendment rights,” said Clark Aposhian, chairman of the Utah Shooting Sports Council. This is something we can each choose to do without government requirements. By coming together with healthcare, businesses in the community, and other groups, we are all helping protect those we love.”
The collaboration between Intermountain and the Utah Shooting Sports Council, as well as many other community partners, led to a plan to distribute free cable gun locks and co-branded educational material throughout Utah healthcare facilities, including hospitals, clinics, and pharmacies. In just one year, more than 20,000 free gun locks have been distributed.
Off-site gun storage is the safest option
Having firearms safely stored puts time and distance between someone experiencing suicidal thoughts and a highly-lethal method.
The safest approach is temporary storage away from home, such as with a trusted friend or family member. Other off-site options include shooting ranges, storage facilities, or calling your local police department and asking to use Utah’s Safe Harbor Law to store the firearms there for free for a limited time period.
If storage away from home is not feasible, the second safest approach is to store all firearms in safes and/or lockboxes with the keys or combinations kept away from the at-risk individual. All ammunition should be kept off-site or locked separately. Cable locks are not an adequate storage plan on their own but can be used in combination with safes and lockboxes for an added level of security, according to Kump.
Safe gun storage gives time in a crisis
“Most suicide attempts occur with little planning, during a short-term crisis. The time period from when people decide to take their lives, and then actually make an attempt is often extremely brief—for half of people, less than 10 minutes; for 75%, less than one hour,” she added.
Since the period of high-risk is often brief, any steps to increase the time and distance between a suicidal impulse and a gun will reduce suicide risk.
Research shows that most people who attempt suicide and survive do not go on to die by suicide later in life; thus, a life saved in the short-term is usually a life saved for the long term.
Safe storage of medications is also an important lethal means reduction practice to avoid both intentional or unintentional harm.
The gun locks available from Intermountain can be picked up for free at any Intermountain pharmacy or ordered at intermountainhealthcare.org/zerosuicide.
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Teenagers and children can also use the Safe UT App which offers 24/7 real time crisis intervention via live chat functions.
If you or a family member has general mental well-being concerns, seek help from your family physician or a therapist or contact Intermountain’s Emotional Health Relief Hotline at 833-442-2211.
Important tips and resources to be found at intermountainhealthcare.org/zerosuicide.