Vermont Gun Shop Project addresses firearm-related suicides


Mark Sabery, an employee at Tyson Autoworks, works with a potential customer at the Brattleboro VFW gun show on Saturday, Jan. 30. Photo by Maddi Shaw/Brattleboro Reformer

Editor’s note: This article is by Maddie Shaw of the Brattleboro Reformer, in which it was first published Feb. 8, 2016.

BRATTLEBORO — Gun-owner groups in partnership with the Center for Health and Learning are mobilizing to launch the Vermont Gun Shop Project in an effort to reduce firearm-related suicides in the state.

Gun Owners of Vermont, the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs and others involved say the effort is designed to open communications about suicide education and prevention among the gun-owner community. The Center for Health and Learning, a nonprofit with offices in Brattleboro, focuses on healthy community initiatives, including suicide prevention.

The Vermont Gun Shop Project is meant to tackle the issue of firearm-related suicides. According to the Center for Disease and Control, 59 of Vermont’s 65 firearms deaths in 2013 were suicides.

“The big problem now is people are not seeking help because they’re afraid that their firearms are going to be taken away,” said Ed Cutler, the president of Gun Owners of Vermont and a resident of Westminster.

Gun Owners of Vermont

Members of Gun Owners of Vermont provide state statistics related to firearms at the Brattleboro VFW gun show on Saturday, Jan. 30. Photo by Maddi Shaw/Brattleboro Reformer

In cooperation with the Vermont Department of Mental Health, The Center for Health and Learning’s Vermont Suicide Prevention Center examined the New Hampshire Gun Shop Project.

That model encourages gun shops, firearms ranges and gun dealers to design and display suicide prevention posters at their locations. The Vermont Gun Shop project will mimic the New Hampshire model.

The Center for Health and Learning’s program specialist, Alexander Potter, said the organization has been working with Cutler and the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen’s Club for a couple months on the project. The posters have been produced and are expected to be distributed around the state within the next couple of weeks.

Potter, the point person on the Gun Shop Project in Vermont, said Cutler and his colleagues have been “really great to work with on this.”

“And they are going out of their way to promote suicide prevention in the gun-owner community of Vermont,” Potter said.

Cutler approached Potter about going beyond hanging posters to explore suicide prevention training for members of the Gun Owners of Vermont and any other interested parties. The Center for Health and Learning has received funding for two trainings — one in northern Vermont and the other in southern Vermont.

Dates have not been set, but Potter said they will be in the spring.

The training sessions will last between 90 minutes and two hours, according to Potter. The sessions will include “gatekeeper training,” such as what risk factors put people at potentially higher risks of suicide, warning signs that might indicate an individual is at risk, and protective factors to keep people safe and not contemplate suicide.

The training will also debunks myths, such as if you talk to someone about suicide that it puts the idea in their head, Potter said.

“The training focuses on giving everyone tools for reaching out to our loved ones if we think they might be in danger,” said Potter. “In this case, we are looking at a very specific audience, the gun-owner community, so we will tailor the conversation to them.”

Cutler said his specific concern is that not enough people are reaching out for help when they’re depressed and/or contemplating suicide. Potter and Cutler say their ultimate goal is for to people to seek help and to convey what the law states about firearms with regard to mental health concerns.

“Going into a therapist in Vermont is not going to cause you to lose possession of your firearms,” said Potter. “If you are concerned about that enough that it’s keeping you from a therapist, how about talking to a friend of yours who is willing to hold on to those guns for you? Then let’s connect you with somebody who can give you some help.”

“If we can prevent [suicide] in anyway, I think this is a proactive way to do it. It’s friends helping friends,” said Cutler.

Cutler believes Gun Owners of Vermont needs to play a role in preventing firearm suicides; however, he does not believe that should be through tightening gun laws.

“That’s actually the worst thing that you can do,” Cutler said. “A lot of people in that position are afraid they are going to get their guns taken away, they’re afraid they’re going to lose their rights, they’re afraid they’re going to get locked up. And with our program, it’s like the buddy system.”

Cutler calls the gun-owner community “tight-knit,” and that alone serves as a form of accountability regarding suicide prevention and safety.

“Being in the firearms community, we’ll be able to understand what their problems are and things like that,” said Cutler.

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Rich Lachapelle
11 months 9 days ago
There is plenty of anecdotal information, especially in the Veteran community, that merely inquiring about ANY medical issue that can be categorized as mental in origin will result in being placed on the database disqualifying them for legal firearm ownership. People are hesitant to seek help for insomnia or headaches. We need a national policy which distinguishes between minor mental issues and those rendering someone as a danger to themselves or others. Information about those adjudicated individuals at that dangerous end of the spectrum needs to reliably be passed along to the NICS system by every jurisdiction. Despite the high… Read more »
Alan Matson
11 months 8 days ago
There’s no doubt that mental health issues are difficult ones to handle. There is often a stigma attached to asking for assistance….a stigma that is non-existent when one is getting treated for cancer, flu or even a broken bone. I think it’s important that we spend significant resources working on these issues….but I also think that we should look to spend resources on figuring out how to help those with mental illnesses avoid situations where they can cause more harm to themselves. As for Gun Owners of Vermont leading this awareness project…..I commend that as well….except that this group is… Read more »
edward letourneau
11 months 9 days ago

What is the age distribution of the suicides? If they are mostly like the national age distribution, e.g., people over 85, it might just be we are taxing them until they see no reason to go on.

edward letourneau
11 months 8 days ago

Guess people don’t like hearing a truth they don’t like — the fact is nearly 1/2 of all gun suicides in the US are people over 85. Its time to focus on why and what is society doing to cause it?

Alan Matson
11 months 8 days ago

I’m not sure that % is correct. Pew has done work on this and the %’s for those over 65 are around 20% of the firearms related suicides. Also, I don’t think society causes suicides any more than society causes broken legs or leukemia.

Amy Alexander
11 months 3 days ago
You really don’t think society causes suicide? What do you think causes it? I was going to comment further on the subject but I’m pretty sure that my opinion would get my guns confiscated. Instead, I’ll provide some facts. Suicide is the seventh leading cause of death for males and the fourteenth leading cause for females.Firearms are the most commonly used method of suicide among males (56.9%). Poisoning is the most common method of suicide for females (34.8%). To review more statistics, go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS)… Read more »
Kevin Lawrence
11 months 9 days ago

This seems like the best use of time and resources of any gun initiative I have ever seen in the Green Mtn. State. Well done.

sandra bettis
11 months 8 days ago

It’s too bad that these are kept such a secret – even when they occur on school property – people have no clue how many there are in Vt.

Rich Seibert
11 months 8 days ago
Mental health as a weapon against the people is communist in origin.. Deceptive Transformation: The Truth of Soviet Influence in America and Gun Control.. The idea of using mental health as a weapon against the people is communist in origin, and the social sciences, or the studying of human behavior has its roots in early twentieth century Russia when Ivan Pavlov developed his “classical conditioning” theories. In fact, Pavlov was disturbed that Vladimir Lenin would use these conditioning methods against the people in order to get them to accept communism. Since that time the social sciences have been used as… Read more »
Rich Seibert
11 months 8 days ago

There are over 370 “mental disorders” listed in the latest version of the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.) The list includes “Tobacco Addiction Disorder” among other equally mundane and ridiculous so-called “mental illnesses.”

If the DSM is the standard by which Obama wishes to remove our rights to own guns, then I’d guess 90% of the American people could probably be classified with a mental disorder of one kind or another.


Rich Lachapelle
11 months 8 days ago

Beware indeed. This list has been politicized excessively over the years. Go back about 40 years and homosexuality was listed as a mental disorder but is now celebrated with colored flags. It is a far stretch from a minor “mental disorder” to a person adjudicated as a danger to themselves or others who is currently prohibited by federal law from buying, possessing or attempting to buy a firearm. If we enforced the EXISTING laws regarding prohibited persons having guns, there would be no need for any new “common sense restrictions”.

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