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Missouri ad campaign promotes safe gun storage to prevent suicide

In a still for Missouri Foundation for Health's "End Family Fire Missouri" campaign, army veteran Gary Parker encourages gun owners to keep their firearms locked and unloaded to prevent suicides.
End Family Fire Missouri
In a still for Missouri Foundation for Health's "End Family Fire Missouri" campaign, army veteran Gary Parker encourages gun owners to keep their firearms locked and unloaded to prevent suicides.

The nonprofit Missouri Foundation for Health and the Ad Council are launching a public service campaign to reduce gun-related suicides in the state.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2020, 49% of the 1,400 Missourians killed by gunfire died by suicide. Starting this week, people in the St. Louis region will see online and television ads educating about safe storage of firearms.

“As we were thinking about how to address suicide prevention, what really rose the top is the lethality of of firearms,” Missouri Foundation for Health Senior Strategist Jessi LaRose said. “When they're involved in a suicide really increases the chance that that person will die by suicide. It is by far the most lethal means.”

The End Family Fire Missouri campaign, created with the Brady Center, reminds gun owners to keep firearms locked away, unloaded and separate from ammunition. Named for former White House Press Secretary Jim Brady and his wife, Sarah, the organization is one of the oldest gun safety groups in the country. Jim Brady was among those shot during a 1981 assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan.

Most people think of gun violence as between two people, but often it’s a case of self-inflicted harm, LaRose said.

“I think there's a lot of disconnect between people thinking about that as more of a interpersonal issue, rather than looking and exploring and thinking about in terms of suicide,” she said.

The Missouri campaign will use video and internet ads to encourage safe-storage practices. The foundation worked with gun owners to create the messaging, and LaRose emphasizes it’s not an anti-firearms campaign. The statewide effort is part of a national campaign that launched in 2018.

The ads focus mostly on protecting young people and teens. According to Brady, half of teen suicides in the state involve a gun.

But safe storage is important “no matter what your household may look like,” LaRose said. Safeguarding guns also can protect adults with mental illness or dementia.

Making it even slightly more difficult to die by suicide can help, LaRose said.

“Putting some time and distance between access to a firearm through things like safe storage can potentially delay or decrease the chance that that will happen,” she said.

In one ad, Gary Parker, a Missouri Army veteran, tells the story of a military friend who died by suicide.

“I wake up one morning on social media and there’s that post you don’t want to see,” he said. “For some reason, he took his own life.”

Parker then urges people to keep their guns locked up.

“It’s that added step to get to your firearm that might just give somebody a moment of reflection of what they’re doing,” he said in the ad.

Last year, the foundation organized a group of seven people to research and create plans to prevent firearm-related suicides over the next two years, focusing on specific demographics at highest risk.

The organization also launched the Gun Shop Project with the University of Missouri-St. Louis, which distributes suicide prevention materials with the help of gun shop owners.

Follow Sarah on Twitter: @Petit_Smudge

If you or someone you know is in crisis, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline any time by calling 1-800-273-8255 or texting “HOME” to 741741.

Copyright 2022 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.