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Conference focuses on mental health for those who own firearms

This week, mental health practitioners and firearms experts are coming together to discuss safety and support for gun owners.

The Firearms and Mental Health: Fostering Understanding, Safety and Support conference is organized by the University of Wyoming’s new Firearms Research Center.

More than half of the firearms deaths in the U.S. are done by suicide, and Wyoming has the highest rate of suicide in the country. Ashely Hlebensky, executive director of the Firearms Reasearch Center, said the idea is to discuss suicide prevention for firearms owners.

“They also either suffered from bipolar or another mental illness, and that they were too afraid to talk about it, because they thought it would jeopardize their jobs,” said Hlebensky. “They thought it would jeopardize their gun ownership.”

The conference will talk about suicide prevention methods. One of those is how people can store their firearms in a safe place, like outside of their home, known as ‘out of home safe storage.’

Peter Wakem Jr. practices it. He owns a company that makes gun cases as art pieces and he carries a gun daily. But he’s always known something about himself.

“I have high amounts of stress or other factors that cause these hard times to come up,” Wakem said. “My brain immediately goes to suicide.”

So when he starts feeling himself going dark - he calls on his trusted friends, he hands over the gun he has on him daily, “and there are two people that I can contact to change that safe number and they will do it in a heartbeat.”

As a practitioner of the out of home safe storage practice, Wakem will be sitting on a panel with mental health and firearm experts to try to create awareness on this type of prevention.

The firearms and mental health conference is in Laramie this Thursday and Friday. It can also be attended on zoom.

If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, call 988.

Kamila has worked for public radio stations in California, New York, France and Poland. Originally from New York City, she loves exploring new places. Kamila received her master in journalism from Columbia University. In her spare time, she enjoys exploring the surrounding areas with her two pups and husband.
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