A week from tomorrow, on Sept. 10, an organization that wants to make each and every one of us equal partners in the effort to lower the number of deaths by suicide, will be in Aberdeen to show us how.
The organization is called Forefront. It falls under the umbrella of the University of Washington School of Social Work and it has the support of the National Rifle Association, the Second Amendment Foundation, gun shop owners, key politicians, pharmacists and a long list of health professionals and public safety groups that deal with cases of suicide.
A pair of popular former local politicians – Lynn Kessler and Jim Hargrove – will be part of the event. Kessler, former House Majority Leader from Hoquiam, is a Forefront board member and one of its strongest supporters. Hargrove, also from Hoquiam and retired last year after a long career in the Senate, will offer a prayer that gets things started that Sunday morning.
The event takes place at Franklin Field (corner of Jefferson and Market streets in Aberdeen). It will include a dramatic display of different colored cardboard headstones, depicting the manner of death in suicide cases.
Far and away the majority of suicides involve guns. In 2014, 49 percent of the 1,111 suicides in the state involved a gun. Forefront hasn’t stressed taking gun rights away, instead it focuses on keeping guns away from people who might be considering suicide. At the event there will be free locking devices for firearms and pill bottles, while supplies last.
The Safer Lock pill bottles made by Gatekeeper Innovation actually have combination locks on the lids. There will also be free medication disposal kits.
For firearms, SnapSafe Lock Boxes and Firearm Life Jacket locking devices will be given away.
The event starts at 9 a.m. with a memorial ceremony and ends about 12:30 p.m. with a raffle drawing for a gun safe worth nearly $800.
There will also be information on training to show parents, teachers or anyone else how to look for signs that someone is considering suicide, and practical information on what can be done to head that off.
Forefront was started by Dr. Jennifer Stuber, a professor of social work at the University of Washington. Her husband, Matt Adler, died of suicide in 2011 and she now spends countless hours educating lawmakers and leading Forefront’s effort to make the public see suicide as a public health issue that is preventable.
Stuber will be there, as will Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Second Amendment Foundation, an influential gun rights group.
Gottlieb has worked side by side with Stuber on suicide-prevention legislation.
Gun dealers are eager for training that will help them spot someone who is struggling emotionally and might use a gun to hurt themselves or others, Gottlieb said. “We are not suicide-prevention experts,” he said. “We don’t know what to look for, how at-risk they might be. The prevention courses helps (gun sellers) understand what to look for and what questions to ask. If they are a first time buyer, you might want to find out why they want the gun. Our problem has always been, we don’t know what to look for.”
The Safer Homes initiative is a key aspect of that, receiving overwhelming support in the Legislature for a bill that provides funding to develop training for gun shop employees who might encounter someone considering suicide, pharmacists who dispense medications, dentists who prescribe narcotics and others who encounter people who might be prone to harming themselves.
The event coincides with World Suicide Prevention Day, and it’s the statewide launch of the Safer Homes initiative, which will include messaging designed to engage the general public in suicide prevention.