N.H. Group’s Harm Reduction Strategy Vs. Gun Suicides

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Photo by Mika Jarvinen via Flickr

Ralph Demicco, a former New Hampshire gun store owner, is part of a quiet nationwide movement that makes him anathema to many of his gun-owning brethren: He is working with mental-health experts and community groups on a campaign to reduce suicides by firearms, reports the Christian Science Monitor. His New Hampshire Firearm Safety Coalition asks gun sellers and firing ranges to watch out for buyers who might be at risk. It promotes the safe storage of guns at home. Its members watch out for fellow gun enthusiasts in emotional crises, and encourage them to ask friends to babysit their firearms if they seem to have suicidal thoughts.

Every week, 400 people in the U.S. use a gun to take their lives. The coalition has embraced the “harm reduction” strategy used to combat drug use, which prioritizes clean needles and health screenings over law enforcement and mandatory treatment. It sidesteps the standard response of health officials to gun violence, which is to see the weapon as the problem and the culture of gun owners as an obstacle. It assumes that the vast number of guns in private hands – one for every man, woman, and child in the U.S. – will remain there. “If you want to reach gun owners, it doesn’t make sense to go at them with an antigun agenda,” says Catherine Barber, a researcher on suicide prevention at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “It makes more sense to work within the culture of gun-owning groups.” The project in New Hampshire has been adopted in various forms in 20 states.

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