Updated: Aug 31
Mental health awareness and firearm ownership do not have to be mutually exclusive. In fact, by improving the mental health of gun owners, the Wyoming firearm community can weaken arguments of anti-gun lobbyists. To do this, the gun owning community must address the highest fatality category for firearms: suicide.
Wyoming is a gun-friendly state. In 2020, we ranked second in the US for gun ownership percentage. That year a Rand Corporation report had 62.2% of Wyoming homes with at least one firearm, only 0.1% lower than the number one state, Montana.
There are several benefits related with this prevalence of ownership. Many Wyomingites proudly hunt, sport shoot, and carry for personal protection. Violent crime and homicide rates are much lower than the national averages, and it is common for experts to attribute these rates, at least partially, to widespread gun ownership.
However, there is one statistic, often ignored, teat blights Wyoming's otherwise positive record with firearms: suicide. Wyoming has the highest suicide rate of all 50 states. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, as of March 2022, Wyoming had 30.46 suicide deaths per 100,000 in comparison to that year's national average of 13.48. Seventy percent of those Wyoming suicides were by firearm. Of all firearm deaths, including accidents and homicides, 83% were suicides.
Many ignore this glaring issue for fear that it may result in loss of Second Amendment rights. that is not the solution. In fact, where things now stand, suicide by firearm is the biggest argument against gun rights that anti-gun lobbyists could hold against Wyoming, so reducing that rate can actually strengthen, not weaken pro-gun stances.
Sweetwater County Prevention Coalition aims to decrease suicide rates in the county without infringing on personal rights. To do this, we are using two critical strategies.
For our first strategy, we are promoting a groundbreaking organization. Walk the Talk America (WTTA) is "dedicated to bridging the gap between mental health and responsible gun ownership" and aims "to enhance the perception of mental health among gun owners while elevating the standard of mental health care within this community." The organization's site offers gun owners several resources including free mental health screenings, FAQs, articles, and many other tools to understand mental health concerns.
WTTA also offers mental health providers free classes in cultural competence that teach them about gun culture and how to best help clients who own guns. By training mental health providers to treat gun owners more effectively, WTTA hopes to reduce the reluctance to seek help among the firearm community. "The common narrative was that clinicians could confiscate your firearms if you confided that you might be struggling with your mental health. In most states, this is simply not true," the site explains. "Many people avoid seeking help because of this belief, which in some cases, could lead to a mental health crisis that could be deadly. When gun owners feel comfortable that their therapist is Gun Culture friendly, they may be more apt to get help."
For our second strategy, we provide free gunlocks to the community. Responsible storage of firearms can reduce suicide and accidents. They are especially important if there are children or individuals with mental health concerns in the home. During a mental health crisis, a gunlock can be the difference between life and death. If you are interested in getting free gunlocks or learning more about responsible firearm ownership, contact the Sweetwater County Prevention Coalition at email@example.com or come and see our booth at the upcoming Up in Arms Gun Show September 15-17 at the Events Complex.
By raising awareness of mental health issues among the firearm community and reducing their reluctance to seek out mental health help, we can reduce the rate of suicide by firearm. Getting help for mental health concerns does not mean losing your guns. Check out the Walk the Talk America site, contact us for free gunlocks, and reach out to professional help if you are struggling with mental health.
If you have lost a loved one to suicide or have otherwise been affected by suicide, please visit us at our International Survivors of Suicide Loss event on November 18, from 11am-1pm, at the Broadway Theater. We will provide a light lunch, watch a movie, and offer support through a community of survivors.