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Suicide prevention campaign targeting gun shops, gun ranges in Tennessee

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MEMPHIS, Tennessee — The Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network is targeting gun shops as part of its public awareness campaign to try to prevent deaths.

An example is a poster on display in a Memphis gun store noting that suicides in Tennessee far outnumber homicides, and firearms are the leading method, The Commercial Appeal (http://bit.ly/1RrFVxk) reported. The sign lists a crisis hotline.

Will Bass, the gun shop's general manager, said it's good to have anti-suicide messages posted in the shop, just in case a customer is thinking about ending his or her own life. "To hopefully get them thinking 'Maybe this isn't the best option,'" Bass said.

Each year, hundreds of people in Tennessee use guns to kill themselves. Existing laws won't necessarily stop people with mental illnesses or suicidal intent from buying weapons, but the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network's Gun Safety Project is trying to prevent deaths through the public awareness campaign that targets gun stores and gun ranges. The network is a public-private partnership associated with the state government.

The network's executive director, Scott Ridgway, said he believes in the right to own guns.

"We just believe that it's not about controlling them and taking them away, it's about safety," he said.

Tennessee ranks 21st among the 50 states and the District of Columbia in its overall suicide rate. About two-thirds of those who killed themselves in Tennessee in 2013 used a gun. That's higher than the national average of 51 percent.

A staffer with the anti-suicide network learned in 2012 about a similar gun shop campaign in New Hampshire, and that state's posters and tip sheets were adapted for Tennessee.

The tip sheets warn workers in gun businesses to watch out for customers who have no knowledge of guns, no interest in learning and say things like "I don't need a lot of ammunition, I won't have the gun for long." The customer might appear anxious or distraught, for instance, shaking or fighting back tears.

The printed materials also say suicide attempts with a gun often kill instantly, while other methods take longer and give the person a chance to be rescued or change their mind. The anti-suicide network also teaches that suicidal feelings often pass over time, so keeping guns away from a person who's having a crisis can save their life. The organization urges gun store workers not to sell weapons to someone who might be suicidal. Depending on the situation, the group recommends notifying police and nearby gun stores or referring the customer to the crisis line.

All Tennessee gun buyers must fill out forms and go through a criminal background check before the sale is approved. People who have been judged "mentally defective" or sent to a mental institution against their will can't legally buy guns. However, people who checked themselves into a mental institution because they wanted help can still buy weapons later, said Michael Knight, a Tennessee spokesman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.


Information from: The Commercial Appeal, http://www.commercialappeal.com

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