Student and gun lobbyist find common ground on preventing firearm suicides

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health student Morissa Sobelson, DrPH ’19, is working with gun rights advocate Clark Aposhian to prevent firearm suicides in Utah. In an op-ed published in the Deseret News on July 14, 2018, Sobelson, an administrative fellow at Intermountain Healthcare in Salt Lake City, and Aposhian, chairman of the Utah Shooting Sports Council, wrote that people in gun-owning households in Utah are more likely to die by suicide—not because they are more depressed or suicidal, but because they have access to the most lethal means.

In Utah, gun suicide prevention efforts involve collaborations among government officials, faith organizations, researchers, survivors, clinicians, and businesses, and focus on changing norms around gun safety. This includes encouraging people to store guns away from the hands of curious children and impulsive teenagers, and for family members and friends to ask to babysit the guns of loved ones going through tough times.

“Every day, we meet people who have lost friends and relatives by firearm, who care about protecting their children and families, who believe in responsible firearm handling and want to help save lives,” Sobelson and Aposhian wrote, adding that they hope their collaboration can help move gun safety conversations away from ideological stalemate. “Because protecting the people we love is something on which we can all agree.”

Efforts to start a dialogue around firearm suicides are also underway in Montana. Suicide prevention advocates have been reaching out to gun shop owners, planting seeds for collaboration.

In a separate article, Cathy Barber, director of Harvard Chan School’s Means Matter campaign, told Montana’s High Country News, “When you approach gun stakeholders as part of the solution, rather than demonizing them as the problem, people are actually very willing to figure out ways to help.” She worked with the New Hampshire Firearms Safety Coalition, a project that collaborated with gun shop owners in New Hampshire to raise awareness about identifying customers who might be contemplating suicide.

Read Deseret News op-ed: Saving lives is not a pro-gun or anti-gun position — it’s a human imperative

Read High Country news article: What gun shops can do to help prevent suicide

Learn more

Working with gun owners to prevent firearm deaths (Harvard Chan School news)

Reducing gun suicides in New Hampshire (Harvard Chan School news)