Today at our Public Health Board meeting I learned a fact that may help me build my first bridge with the NRA: State wide in 2014, 1119 people took their own lives. Nearly half — 551 — of these people shot themselves.
Sadly, King County has one of the highest firearm suicide statistics in the nation. We rank worse than Dallas County Texas and Cook County Illinois.
Although we hear about homicides and shootings all too frequently, firearm suicides account for nearly 70% of all gun-related deaths in King County and 80% in Washington State.
We can actually do something about this statistic and reduce suicides in our community.
The tragedies behind suicides were confirmed by Dr. Jennifer Stuber the Executive Director of Forefront, an organization dedicated to suicide prevention. Dr. Stuber has a deep personal stake in prevention: her 40 year old husband died by a gun.
Dr. Stuber and Bothell Police Chief Carol Cummings described the impact on the first responders, and families and friends who live with the memories.
These experts underscored that suicides are most often decisions made in the heat of the moment. The most acute period generally lasts less than twenty minutes and family members can play an important part in prevention, especially when guns are involved.
At the King County Board of Health meeting, we learned what we as a community can do to address this growing concern:
The actions below are common sense steps that can make a difference, and will generate little conflict. Since the recommendations have nothing to do with the Second Amendment and everything to do with community safety, I have been reassured my NRA member neighbors and I can hold hands on these:
- If you own a gun: purchase AND USE safe storage devices. The Lok it Up program through the Public Health Department was designed to prevent curious children – or depressed family members — from accessing guns in the home or office. Keeping firearms locked up and away during those most intense emotional minutes can literally mean the difference between life and death.
- If you are a Health Care Providers: Ask your patients about firearm storage, read the Lok it Up page which recommends safe courses of action and links to suppliers.
3. As Dr. Jeff Duchin emphasizes regularly, we need to approach homicides and suicides as public health problems. This means Congress must reinstitute funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to do the necessary research and data collection.
- Implement HB 1840. King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg and I are working to fully implement HB 1840, a new state law that provides the authority (but not the funding) to establish protocols for the removal of guns by the courts in certain domestic violence situations. We are underway but underfunded.
- Provide empathy and de-escalation training in schools. Studies across our nation and around the world are showing that empathy training and alternative dispute resolution training for our youngest students through high school can make a big difference in how they feel about themselves, and effectively reduce bullying in schools.
Each of these five actions can improve community safety overall as well as improve how we feel about ourselves and each other. And any of these actions can be just the step to identify and prevent a disaster in your family or mine.
I am proud to live and work with people who are trying to solve these problems. Thanks for being a part of it.
Laura Hitchcock from Public Health offers these numbers for immediate assistance:
IF YOU NEED HELP NOW:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
King County Crisis Clinic: 1-866-427-4747
Teenager Hot line: 1 – 800 833 6546 between 6 p.m. and 10:00 p.m.
For LGBTQ support: 1-800-488-7836
Older Adults: 1-800-971-0016 between 8:30 a.m. and 5:00 p.m.