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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Editorial: Suicide prevention draws surprising ally

Awareness is the cornerstone of suicide prevention. Nearly 80 percent of gun deaths in Washington state are suicides. Were you aware?

Jenn Stuber, a social work professor at the University of Washington, lost her husband five years ago. She wondered what could’ve been done differently. She wondered whether gun-rights groups would be interested in helping.

It couldn’t hurt to ask, so she did.

On March 8, the state Legislature passed Washington’s Suicide Awareness and Prevention Education for Safer Homes Act, a law made possible by a remarkable collaboration between suicide prevention groups and the gun lobby.

It all started when Stuber called the National Rifle Association.

Stuber was one of the speakers at the recent Zero Suicide Inland Northwest conference at Gonzaga University. This isn’t her first foray into turning prevention ideas into legislation.

The Matt Adler Law, named for her husband, was passed in 2012, and it requires some health care providers to get suicide assessment training. That debate spotlighted the fact that many primary care providers didn’t know what to do when patients indicated they were suicidal. Most physicians didn’t ask the question in the first place, even if their patients were suffering from depression or substance abuse – two indicators of a much higher risk.

Under the new bill, which awaits the governor’s signature, pharmacists would also be compelled to complete one-time training on assessment management.

But it’s the gun angle that is drawing attention, because many people assumed gun advocates never want to cooperate with the government on gun ownership issues. HB 2793 proved that to be false.

Suicide can be a sudden decision. A gun can bring a sudden end. The bill connects those truths to a larger effort to rein in a preventable health problem.

The key to all of these efforts is to end the public silence.

The bill creates a Safe Homes Task Force, which includes the state Department of Health, suicide prevention specialists, gun dealers and gun-rights groups. Gun dealers would hand out suicide prevention posters and brochures in exchange for a B&O tax credit. Safety guides for hunters would also be distributed.

Online suicide awareness training would also be available for employees of gun stores and firing ranges. Two counties will run a pilot program that combines awareness training with the distribution of devices to safely store weapons and prescription drugs.

To get started, the law would cost about $300,000, an expenditure subject to the Legislature’s current budget negotiations.

Stuber is to be commended for turning her tragedy into laws that have put the state at the forefront (her group is called Forefront) of suicide prevention. Gun advocates are to be commended for not automatically hanging up on her.