Vermont’s suicide rate is higher than the national average by about 30 percent. According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2014 Vermont’s rate was 19 people per 100,000,compared to 13 per 100,000 nationally.
Additionally, 48 percent of Vermont suicides involved guns.
Since last year, firearms groups and suicide prevention advocates have been working together on an effort to reduce the number of self-inflicted gun deaths.
The Gun Shop Project is modeled on a similar program in New Hampshire. It involves putting posters containing suicide prevention hotlines and other information at gun shops and firing ranges. It also provides information to gun shop owners and those who own firearms on how to be proactive in encouraging at-risk individuals to seek help.
The project is a cooperative effort between the state, the Vermont Suicide Prevention Center, the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs and the organization Gun Owners of Vermont.
“It’s very collaborative and it brings together common interests rather than get off to a start where conversation breaks down,” says Dr. Jay Batra, medical director of the Vermont Department of Mental Health.
For that reason, the project steers clear of discussions about gun laws.
A study published last year in the American Journal of Public Health found that requiring gun locks, waiting periods for gun purchases and universal background checks reduced firearm suicides.
“We need to study them, we need to understand them,” Batra says of these ideas. “This is the beginning, not the end of our suicide prevention work.”
Batra says other efforts underway include improving how health care professionals can identify and respond to individuals at risk of suicide.
The Gun Shop Project will hold workshops in Rutland Sept. 18 and St. Johnsbury Sept. 25.