Proposed bill puts gun shops at forefront of mental health advocacy

New law will hopefully prevent gun deaths
Published: Mar. 29, 2023 at 5:57 PM CDT
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BELLEVUE, Wis. (WBAY) - “We do know that Veterans die by suicide 70% utilizing a firearm versus 50% in the non-veteran population,” Senior Administrative Assistant with the Wisconsin Medical College Susan Smykal said.

It’s an alarming statistic drawing attention from legislators. A proposed bill by two Republican lawmakers could make mental health awareness more commonplace at state gun shops.

“It’s extremely important to understand why things happen and why people do what they do,” General Manager Mike Shea with the Family Shooting Academy explained.

The bill would award grant money through the Wisconsin Department of Health Services to educate and train staff at gun shops across the state. That training would put an emphasis on recognizing signs of mental distress so shops can avoid selling to people who might be considering dying by suicide.

The grant program would distribute $75,000 each year for two years to shops across the state, with each state receiving a maximum amount of $5,000 with them contributing matching funds or in-kind services up to 20% of the awarded amount.

That money would help shops set up temporary gun storage programs and create materials for suicide prevention.

“Here at family shooting academy anybody that’s going to go out to shoot we flat out ask them if they’re dealing with any depressions,” Shae explained. “You would be surprised but we have had people stop at that point in our check in process and say yeah, I am. It takes a moment and makes them stop and think. That’s really what it’s all about is getting people to recognize what’s going on with each other and maybe preventing something.”

Shae said it’s important to recognize that no program is ‘one size fits all’ and most shops have different options available to fit an individual’s specific situation.

“We also do things like Project ChildSafe which gets gun locks into the hands of folks that have kids and don’t otherwise have gun locks,” Shae explained. “The shooting sports industry as a whole through our national trade organization the NSSF has suicide prevention programs and are partnered with national suicide prevention organizations.”

“You can’t take a shop in the middle of rural Wisconsin and have them have the exact same security systems and storage systems as a shop downtown Milwaukee.”

The Medical College of Wisconsin told Action 2 News it’s important for families and friends to start conversations about gun safety.

“Do you have a firearm at home? How do you store it? Are you storing it properly? How about I hold it for you temporarily? Do you have a safe to put it in? If not, do you know there’s a program where your local firearm retailer can hold it for you temporarily?” Smykal asked, demonstrating some possible conversation starters.

If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, call or text 988 to be connected immediately with a trained counselor.

Proposed bill aims to prevent suicide through gun shop programming