Op-Ed: A case for gun locks as we observe Suicide Awareness Month

By Sheriff Jewell Williams
Published : September 11, 2019 in Philadelphia Metro 


Gun Lock
September is Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month in America. 

Suicide can affect anybody, any family or any workplace. Less than four months ago, the Sheriff’s Office lost a member of our family when Deputy Sheriff Dante Austin took his own life in our office.

 

Dante was a bright, outgoing young man who uplifted his community through service and who was devoted to his colleagues, his family and friends. Nobody would have guessed that he was silently suffering with depression. We mourn his loss with sadness about what continued greatness could have lay ahead for someone so dynamic and driven. 


Research has indicated that in addition to preventing accidental discharge of a firearm by a child, the use of household gun locks can reduce the amount of suicide by adolescents with thoughts of self-harm.


A Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia report showed that 80% of guns used in youth suicide attempts were kept in the homes of parents, relatives or friends and the U.S. General Accounting Office says that about one-third of accidental deaths caused by guns may have been prevented if a gun-lock had been used

Every day, more than 22 veterans across the country die by suicide, with many of them using a gun to do so. A survey of veterans treated for mental health care by the Veteran Health Administration showed that 68 percent would want the VA to offer gun locks to veterans who own firearms


The Sheriff’s Office began to distribute free gun locks in 2016, in hopes of reducing violence, accidental deaths or injuries among children and to deter suicide. We continue to give away gun locks at nearly 100 community events per year. We distributed more than 11,000 in 2018. They are available between 8:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. weekdays in our office at 100 S. Broad Street, 5th Floor.


We will have gun locks to distribute at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Out of the Darkness Walk at 7:30 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 6 at the Art Museum where a crew of officers and staff from the Sheriff’s Office plan to participate in memory of Dante Austin. You can learn more about the walk at afsp.or


If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or text the Crisis Text Line (text HELLO to 741741). Both services are free and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.