ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
The debate over guns divides many Americans. But in Colorado, there is a new push to sidestep the political fights and find common ground on one thing - guns and suicide. John Daley reports.
JOHN DALEY, BYLINE: It's ladies night at the Centennial Gun Club in a suburb outside Denver. More than 80 women are here to get some safety instruction.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: So when you put your finger on the trigger, you'll see that.
DALEY: And take target practice.
(SOUNDBITE OF GUNSHOT)
DALEY: As they rotate through the club's range, they also hear a sobering presentation from emergency doctor Emmy Betz. She's part of a collaboration between gun shops and public health leaders to help prevent suicide.
EMMY BETZ: If you have been touched by suicide somehow, if you could raise your hand.
DALEY: About half the hands go up. Colorado has the nation's seventh-highest suicide rate. In a typical year, more than half involve guns. Researchers suggest suicide is often an impulsive act. And Betz says attempts are much more likely to be lethal when a gun is accessible.
BETZ: Unfortunately, with firearms typically there's not that second chance.
DALEY: The campaign is called the Colorado Gun Shop Project. During this talk, organizers hand out Life Saver candies. Gun owner Lily Richardson says she thinks the information could do just that - save lives.
LILY RICHARDSON: And I think those who are aware and taking the initiative to talk about it can help make the difference.
DALEY: Brand-new gun owner Nancy Dibiaggio agrees.
NANCY DIBIAGGIO: It's a big issue. And I think it's great that Colorado is jumping on the wagon with this.
DALEY: This is one of 46 Colorado gun shops that have joined the effort. Dick Abramson is this store's owner.
DICK ABRAMSON: The difficulty is it's not a topic that people want to just bring up and talk about over the cocktail table, right?
DALEY: He says his store has refused to sell a gun to someone they're concerned about or feel is having an especially bad day.
ABRAMSON: My honest feeling is this is a nonpartisan issue. This is something that everybody can get behind. It should be a universal concern of everyone.
DALEY: In another Denver suburb, the Bristlecone Shooting, Training, and Retail Center is also part of the project.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Shooters, are you ready?
DALEY: In its range, shooters take target practice at bowling pins lined up on the far wall.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Fire.
(SOUNDBITE OF GUNSHOTS)
DALEY: In the shop showroom, store owner Jacquelyn Clark shows off literature they're putting on display.
JACQUELYN CLARK: That talks about suicide prevention and what to do if you know somebody or you yourself are in crisis.
DALEY: A poster reads gun owners can help. Under a photo of a lone elk in the mountains, it lists signs someone may be suicidal and a phone number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Clark says most people don't realize that the majority of gun deaths are not homicides, but suicides.
CLARK: The gun community itself is more at risk than the regular community, not because gun owners tend to have more mental health issues but just because they have more access.
DALEY: Access to firearms. Jarrod Hindman is the head of suicide prevention for the state. He appreciates that local gun advocates are taking the lead.
JARROD HINDMAN: This is their project. We're just helping facilitate the process.
DALEY: More than 500 Coloradans took their own lives with a firearm in 2014, says Hindman. But talking about the role of guns is hard.
HINDMAN: Obviously this is a very contentious topic, and we've found a way to find middle ground.
DALEY: And now a large trade association for the firearms industry, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, is teaming up with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. They're developing a suicide prevention campaign for the gun group's 13,000 members. Their goal is to reduce the suicide rate by 20 percent in the next decade. For NPR News, I'm John Daley in Denver.
SHAPIRO: That story is part of a reporting partnership of NPR, Colorado Public Radio and Kaiser Health News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.