Gun shop owners join effort to prevent suicide

A sheriff’s detective walked into Chuck Lovelace’s gun shop in Mount Horeb this spring and delivered unsettling news: A man who had bought a handgun at the shop a few days earlier used it to kill himself.

“My wife was devastated because she sold him the gun,” said Lovelace, owner of Essential Shooting Supplies. “It really opens your eyes.”

In part because of that suicide, Lovelace is participating in the Gun Shop Project, a new effort by Safe Communities of Madison-Dane County to help gun retailers prevent suicides by avoiding gun sales to people who show signs of being suicidal. The program also encourages gun shop customers to store firearms away from home if a household member is having a mental health crisis.

For gun shops and shooting ranges, the impact of suicide can be indirect or direct. Not only do some people buy guns and use them in suicides elsewhere; some have killed themselves at shooting ranges.

“Suicide is a very impulsive act,” said Cheryl Wittke, executive director of Safe Communities, a nonprofit that works to reduce injuries. “A critical component to prevent suicide is to reduce the access to lethal means.”

Safe Communities is launching the Gun Shop Project on Tuesday in connection with the beginning of deer hunting season Saturday, as part of its Zero Suicide initiative started this year. Hunters have guns, and many of them are middle-aged men, who have a relatively high risk of suicide, Wittke said.

She said the effort is part of a strategy to expand suicide prevention efforts beyond looking at why people kill themselves— often because of untreated depression or other mental health conditions — to examining how they do it, and reducing the opportunities.

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