New workshops in El Paso County aim to help with suicide prevention

"When we think of how can we save the most lives? We look at what caused the most deaths....
"When we think of how can we save the most lives? We look at what caused the most deaths. that's why we want folks to start thinking about safe storage in regards to suicide prevention."(KKTV)
Published: Sep. 8, 2022 at 7:35 AM MDT
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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) - The El Paso County Sheriff’s Office has a message it needs everyone to hear.

It’s about a tough subject: suicide.

Suicide has become a growing epidemic in much of the U.S., and in Colorado, El Paso County holds the tragic distinction of having the most suicides in the state last year. An El Paso County Coroner’s Office reports shows that of the 176 people who died by suicide last year, 114 used a firearm.

In response to these sobering statistics, the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office has partnered with local non-profit Suicide Prevention Collaborative of El Paso County to educate the public about storing firearms safely and making them harder to access during a potential mental health crisis.

“Anecdotally, many people who are in a crisis, a mental health crisis -- typically those folks will resort to whatever mean is most available to them to attempt to carry that out,” said Sgt. Jason Garrett with the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office.

Representatives from the sheriff’s office and the collaborative are holding a series of workshops for the public to “present current statistical information on local suicide rates, discuss firearms storage laws, and discuss and demonstrate a variety of firearms safes and storage products available on the commercial market.” The workshops began Aug. 24 and are being held at different locations across the county. The latest workshop was held Wednesday night and was hosted by the Magnum Shooting Center at the Broadmoor Towne Center.

Garrett said it was students who first got the ball rolling on the workshops.

“Several months ago, a couple of local college students obtained a federal grant, and with that grant they partnered with [the collaborative], of which the El Paso County sheriffs office is a part, to host several community gatherings with the purpose of educating folks on the local stats regarding suicide, which continues to be unfortunately very prevalent in El Paso County, and to talk about specifically how we can safely store firearms in order to keep those away from people who are in crisis so that they can get through that period of crisis without making a rash decision and have access to those firearms.”

Wednesday’s workshop focused on the various options people have for safe storage, including cable locks, lock boxes and safes.

“The nice thing about these workshops is that they are going through the gambit of choices and really creating a menu of options for safe storage,” Garrett said.

He told 11 News that safe storage is all about creating a pause for people who are in crisis, which he says is often driven by irrational thought. Nearly three-fourths of El Paso County suicides last year had alcohol or drugs in their system.

“Pragmatically coming alongside that person and preventing access to drugs, access to firearms, so that they can get through that period of your rational behavior and still come out of that safely. That’s the goal here.”

He elaborated:

“I don’t have stats to back it up. But so many people over my almost 20 years in law enforcement and those in the mental health profession can attest to as well. Those that are stopped from committing that act or are somehow diverted from it are very thankful because although in the moment they were contemplating, that they are very thankful they are stopped from doing that at the end of the day.

“It just kind of speaks to the importance and especially the prevalence of the use of firearms by a lot of the folks in our community, that if somehow we could get past that particular part of this issue and make it more difficult for people in crisis to quickly access that in the moment of crisis, I think we are doing a good thing.”

Another workshop will be held Saturday at Magnum Shooting’s north center on Meadowgrass Drive.

If you or someone you know are experiencing suicidal thoughts, there’s a new phone number for the 24/7 National Suicide Hotline. Just dial 988.