UPDATED: The stereotype of a gun show as gathering of single-minded “gun nuts” took a beating over the weekend in Washington State when volunteers from the Safer Homes Suicide Aware project found themselves surrounded by interested members and visitors to the Washington Arms Collectors’ (WAC) monthly gathering at the Puyallup Fairgrounds.
It didn’t hurt at all that the group was offering free gun locking devices and a drawing for a high-tech gun safe. Hundreds of people flocked to the Safer Homes display, just across the aisle from the Second Amendment Foundation’s location. As a group, the Arms Collectors crowd welcomed this effort.
SAF founder and Executive Vice President Alan Gottlieb 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. Gottlieb, who also chairs the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, said the effort is about preventing tragedies.
Aimee Chou, communications specialist for the Forefront Suicide Prevention, a center at the University of Washington told Liberty Park Press 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 from Northwest Safe, that can hold a small revolver or pistol, and Life Jacket devices from MSE Worldwide, that lock around the action of a handgun, rifle or shotgun, depending on the model.
“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. Orwall explained the effort in a Seattle Times Op-Ed last year.
It appeared the giveaway exceeded its goal, and the team of volunteers provided lots of information to visitors.
In an update, Chou reported Monday morning that approximately 600 storage or disposal devices for firearms and medications were handed out to about 300 people. There were 15 volunteers who manned the display for the two-day event. Those individuals rotated in and out.
Here are some quick facts. 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.”
It’s amazing what a little cooperation can accomplish.