By Dave Workman,
The first-ever appearance by a suicide prevention group at a Washington (State) Arms Collectors gun show was a success, with hundreds of gun owners interacting with volunteers from the Safer Homes Suicide Aware project, which has been supported by gun rights leader Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Second Amendment Foundation.
It was an event that put the stereotype of gun shows as gatherings of single-minded “gun nuts” out to pasture. The gun collectors’ group (WAC) gathering occurs monthly at the Puyallup Fairgrounds, a few miles east of Tacoma.
It didn’t hurt at all that the group was offering free gun locking devices and a drawing for a high-tech gun safe. According to Aimee Choe, communications specialist for the Forefront program at the University of Washington, about 600 gun locking and prescription drug storage devices or disposal devices were handed out to about 300 people.
Gottlieb, who serves as SAF executive vice president and is also chairman of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, has championed the suicide prevention effort in the Evergreen State, and it was evident from the interest gun owners showed that the firearms community is on board with the project.
Choe told W&G that the reception from gun owners was overwhelmingly positive. The two-day event found gun show visitors crowding around the Safer Homes display, filling out questionnaires, picking up information, chatting with volunteers and taking home a locking gun safety device. There was also a drawing for a Liberty Safe HDX-350 biometric Smart Vault.
The smaller devices included Liberty’s HD-50 Key Vault, that can hold a small revolver or pistol, and Life Jacket devices that lock around the action of a handgun, rifle or
shotgun, depending on the model. These were provided by Northwest Safe, and they were a big hit.
“Our goal was to give away 300 safes,” said Jennifer Stuber, who founded Forefront and brought the firearms community on board with help from the National Rifle Association, as well as Gottlieb’s committed involvement. He’s worked on the effort for more than two years, and was a key advocate of legislation sponsored by State Rep. Tina Orwall (D-Seattle) that officially launched a pilot effort in 2016 and secured state funding earlier this year.
Fifteen volunteers who manned the display for the two-day event rotated their shifts, and for most, if not all, it was the first experience they ever had at a gun show. The WAC gun show is one of the largest in the Evergreen State.
On the average, about two thirds of all firearms fatalities in the United States in any given year are suicides. In Washington State, that number is closer to 80 percent. When people talk about 30,000 deaths annually from “gun violence,” that’s a combination of suicides, homicides and accidents.
“The crowd was very receptive,” Stuber said. “People were lining up.”
It was a first for the WAC gun show, and considering the reception, it won’t be the last time that the Safer Homes volunteers make an appearance.
This effort began in 2015 when Gottlieb, Stuber and others began quietly meeting to discuss suicide and what things might be done to reduce the numbers. Stuber’s husband took his life with a handgun. She channeled personal loss into positive action, reaching out to the firearms community. The result of that is a project that now involves gun rights organizations, gun dealers, firearms instructors and range operators, along with pharmacists and the medical community. Rep. Orwall sponsored the enabling legislation and shepherded it through the Legislature.
Where gun owners are concerned, WAC members observed that this was the right approach because nobody is trying to force anyone to do anything. More than a year ago, when the initial legislation was passed, the Spokane Spokesman-Review summed it up: “many people assumed gun advocates never want to cooperate with the government on gun ownership issues. (The legislation) proved that to be false.”