Between the years 2000 and 2017, the Wisconsin suicide rate spiked by 40 percent — 50 percent of which are committed by firearm.
These statistics influenced legislators to create Assembly Bill 527, which aims to combat suicide by firearm by supporting gun retailers in intervening with at-risk customers.
Facilitated by the Department of Health Services, the bill allocates a grant system to gun retailers, allowing them to receive training about assisting customers in crisis. The funding is also intended to help retailers create storage space to house weapons for individuals in crisis.
Modeled after the Safe Storage Program, which was implemented in a gun shop in Dane County by the Gun Shop Project, the bill proposed a statewide program allowing people in crisis to store their firearms with licensed retailers.
Jean Papalia, a former officer with the Madison Police Department leading the charge on the Gun Shop Project, testified on behalf of the bill at a local government committee meeting Tuesday at the Capitol.
Papalia elaborated on how this program provides the tools necessary for firearm retailers to spot a person in crisis to ensure no guns are sold to them. So far, 15 storefronts in Dane County joined the initiative.
Additionally, Essential Shooting Supplies is one of two firearm retailers in Dane County participating in the Safe Storage Program, which the proposed bill is modeled after.
Since the implementation of the Safe Storage Program in 2017, owner of Essential Shooting Supplies Chuck Lovelace believes he saved half a dozen lives by creating a space for individuals in crisis to temporarily turn over their firearms.
“This is not gun control, it’s limiting access.” Lovelace said. “We truly feel that by offering this service we are not only helping a person in a time of crisis, but also their friends, family and first responders who may be affected by a suicide by firearm.”
If passed, Assembly Bill 527 intends to make similar services accessible statewide in an attempt to save more lives and increase gun ownership safety.
Authors of the legislation believe it is the responsibility of the community as a whole to lift each other up.
“This bill gives the retailers and various organizations the ability to start the conversation and bring the community together on the issue of suicide,” Rep. Jesse James, R-Altoona, said. “I’m proud to author this bill and get the conversation going on how we can bring our communities together and look out for one another when things get tough.”
state news writer