HELENA — A new partnership between suicide prevention activists, local pharmacists and members of the firearm community hopes to promote safe storage of firearms to keep Lewis and Clark County families safe. This joint effort, known as Safer Communities Montana (SCM), is rolling out in Helena, East Helena, Augusta, and Lincoln.
“As a person who owns and uses firearms and as a licensed firearms dealer, I wanted to help with this effort of awareness, to emphasize that along with the right to own firearms, we have the responsibility to be conscientious about how we safely store them to prevent any tragedy,” said Ed Beall, president and owner of Capital Sports & Western and an SCM member.
“Gun owners know that owning firearms is serious business, and we want all those around us to be safe. We, too, know the pain of suicide and loss.”
Lewis and Clark County firearm dealers, range operators, pharmacists, local suicide prevention experts, Montana Veteran Affairs staff, and mental health advocates designed the Safer Communities Montana campaign to empower the community to always keep their homes safe. That includes steps county residents can take if someone in their household struggles with thoughts of suicide or is experiencing a severe mental or emotional crisis.
The efforts is funded by a Montana Mental Health Trust grant, SCM is a Lewis and Clark Suicide Prevention Coalition project.
“We want safe storage to be an everyday habit for our community members. If you have a firearm that is not in use, keep it locked and unloaded -- same thing with medication, lock up what you need and dispose of any leftovers you no longer use,” said Caroline Patterson, Lewis and Clark Public Health suicide prevention VISTA, who is assisting with implementation of the project. “That way, they won’t get into the wrong hands at the wrong time.”
SCM also gives firearm retailers, range operators and pharmacists tailored tip sheets and education to slow down sales if a customer or patient exhibits warning signs. These can include concerning comments like “I won’t need much ammunition” or “My family would be better off without me.” The retailers and pharmacists also learn how to get people connected to services to help them navigate this difficult time in their lives.
“Pharmacists are ideally situated to help those in need due to our frequent interactions and access to other providers and resources,” said Joshua Loveland, an SCM member and the director of pharmacy at Shodair Children’s Hospital. “We can educate on risk reduction and medication security, assist with disposal of medications, and identify at-risk community members.”
What are lethal means?
The term lethal means refers to any item someone in crisis might use to take their lives (e.g., medication, firearms, bridges). According to the T.H. Chan Harvard School of Public Health’s Means Matter study, temporarily reducing a suicidal person’s access to highly lethal means is a powerful strategy to prevent suicide. This can be carried out by using protective devices like gun locks, medication lockboxes, and suicide deterrent nets under bridges. Additionally, the time between the decision and the attempt is typically five minutes to an hour, so if people in crisis do not have access at that moment, they are more likely to survive.
“Nine out of 10 people who attempt suicide and survive will not go on to die by suicide unless they use a gun. You don’t get a second chance with a firearm,” said Suicide Prevention Coordinator Karl Rosston with the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services.
Steps for a Safer Community
The most effective way to protect yourself and your loved ones is by adopting safe storage practices in your home today. This can look like:
- Locking up medication aside from a one-week supply. If someone in your household is struggling, limit access to a one-day supply.
- Unloading and securing all firearms with a gun lock, safe, or another locking device. Store the ammunition separately.
- Disposing of leftover Rx at a prescription disposal site or by requesting free Deterra drug deactivation systems at safercommunitiesmt.org
- Asking your doctor to limit prescriptions to no more than a one-month supply.
- Asking your doctor and pharmacist to use blister packs rather than a bottle to dispense opioids and other medications, especially those with suicidal ideation as a side effect.
- Having a conversation with your spouse or partner regarding what to do with medication and firearms if either of you ever experiences a mental health challenge.
- Temporarily entrusting firearms to trusted friends or family outside of the home until the crisis has passed.
Locally, SCM members developed the collaborative model with the expertise of Prickly Pear Sportsmen’s Association, Capital Sports and Western, and pharmacists with PureView, St. Peter’s Health, and Shodair Children’s Hospital. The project took direction from evidence-based models in New Hampshire and Washington state, known as the New Hampshire Gun Shop Project and Safer Homes, Suicide Aware, as well as the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s partnership with the National Shooting Sports Foundation. All three focus on strong partnerships with the firearm community. The Montana Suicide Mortality Review Team Report, Lewis and Clark County suicide data, and state suicide prevention coordinator Karl Rosston also informed SCM’s effort.
“This project follows in the steps of some truly innovative lethal means efforts that combine a deep respect for the firearm community and our pharmacists. Together, we can pursue solutions that work,” Hegstrom noted.
For more information about Safer Communities Montana, visit www.safercommunitiesMT.org contact Caroline Patterson, Suicide Prevention VISTA, Lewis and Clark Public Health, 301-602-5259 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Reaching out for help
If you or a loved one are having thoughts of suicide, please reach out.
The Montana Suicide Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255 or you can text “MT” to 741 741. The service is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
More information about resources available for suicide prevention and survivor of suicide loss can be found here.