Experts say locking up firearms reduces chance of youth suicide

The number of youth dying by suicide has tripled in the state of Utah in the past decade. Lawmakers, activists, and e...

Posted: Jun 16, 2018 6:34 AM
Updated: Jun 16, 2018 6:34 AM

The number of youth dying by suicide has tripled in the state of Utah in the past decade. Lawmakers, activists, and educators are now learning that half of those between the ages of 10 and 17 who took their own life last year in Utah did so by using a firearm.

Those preliminary numbers from the state are so concerning lawmakers aren't waiting for a Harvard research report due in August to spread this message: lock up your guns and ammunition.

"We know that nine out of 10 people who survive an attempt will not go on to die by suicide, but if they use a firearm, very few of them survive, which is why it's so critical to lock them up," says State Representative Steve Eliason, whose extended family has been impacted by suicide.

Eliason is also co-chair of the governor's suicide prevention task force, which was created at the beginning of the year.

Catherine Voutaz's son, Chandler, died by suicide last year. She says in the blink of an eye, her 15-year-old son was gone.

"There was no recovery from that," adds Voutaz.

Shari Elliott's son, Avery, also died by suicide. He too was 15 years old. Elliott says he was struggling in the weeks leading up to her son's death but she never thought it would lead to suicide.

"We honestly thought it was him being a normal teenage boy," says Elliott.

Tragically, both boys used a firearm. Voutaz says her firearm had been locked in a gun safe and Chandler took her key to open it.

"He managed to take the key off of the key ring and obtain the firearm. Load it and took his own life," Voutaz says.

Right now, a study is being conducted by the Harvard Injury Control Research Center on youth suicides in Utah. Cathy Barber, who is heading the project, says firearms account for more suicide deaths than all other methods combined. In the 20 years she's been in the suicide prevention field, she says gun locks are an easy step in helping parents protect a child in a moment of crisis.

"Teenagers are much more likely to get into the guns," says Barber.

Barber says parents are generally more concerned with locking their guns around small children. Research show it's just as important to lock firearms so teens can't access them.

"The purpose of home safety is if your kid or loved one hits one of these periods, they make it through alive," Barber says.

Utah lawmakers are acting now on that message. The state has funded a public service announcement urging parents to lock any guns they may have in the home away from a teenager who may be going through a crisis.

Voutaz urges parents to listen to the message that lawmakers are sending. She doesn't want other parents to go through the loss and heartbreak she and her husband have endured.

"Take one extra step, just one extra step. Whether it be key management or making sure there is a trigger lock on that gun or some biometric mechanism to secure that firearm. That might have given him some extra time," Voutaz says.

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