CU survey: Law enforcement, gun shops often willing to store firearms during mental health crises

DENVER – If someone you knew was threatening to take their own life and they had a gun at home, would you know what to do?

According to a recent survey from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, you could take that firearm to a nearby law enforcement agency or gun store and chances are, they’d be willing to hold it temporarily.

Epidemiology professor Carol Runyan and her colleagues at the Colorado School of Public Health at CU Anschutz contacted hundreds of law enforcement agencies and gun retailers in Colorado, Arizona, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming to gauge their willingness to store guns in a crisis situation.

The study authors heard back from 448 agencies and 95 retailers. Three quarters of law enforcement agencies said they would temporarily hold a gun for someone and half of gun shops said the same.

About two-thirds of gun stores surveyed also recommend storing a gun with a friend or family member, but this runs the risk of the gun not being stored properly or still being within easy access to the person in crisis, Runyan said.

Storing a gun temporarily at a law enforcement agency isn’t a new idea – it’s sometimes done in domestic violence situations, for example – but Runyan said it’s important for people to know that it could be an option during a mental health crisis as well.

“It’s not about taking guns away from people,” Runyan said. “It’s about safe storage, especially in a home with a person in crisis. A gun that is easily accessible to a person in crisis increases the chance that a person is going to die.”

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The researchers focused their survey on eight Mountain West states because of the high rate of gun-related suicides here.

“We have crime shows on TV that focus on homicide all the time, but not suicide. The general public may not be aware what a problem suicide is, and in this region suicide by gun is a higher problem than the country overall,” Runyan said.

The study is published in the September issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

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