Pandemic Could Exacerbate High Rates Of Gun Suicides In Rural West

May 18, 2020

Jablon recommends keeping guns in a safe to reduce the possibility of gun suicide, especially during the stress of the pandemic.
Credit Minot Air Force Base

People aren't just stockpiling toilet paper, but an analysis of federal data shows they're also stockpiling more guns. It's a worrisome trend in the rural West, the region that suffers from from the highest rates of gun suicide. 

Wyoming has the highest rate of suicide by gun in the U.S., according to a recent report, and the pandemic could be increasing that risk. People in rural places are more likely to experience loneliness, isolation and poverty, which is exacerbated by the pandemic.

That's why Dakota Jablon, the suicide prevention specialist with the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence, said Wyomingites should take extra good care of each other. She said that's what she's trying to do with her own family and friends.

"As I'm checking in on their mental health and making sure that they're doing okay, they have enough food, I'm also checking in to see if they have their firearm there and is it locked appropriately, are they practicing that proper storage," said Jablon. "And just coming from a place of care and not kind of looking down on them for any reasons."

Jablon said many gun retailers have remained open during the pandemic and are in a position to help.

"It's really an important opportunity for gun stores and gun retailers and salesmen and gun shop owners to be engaged in suicide prevention. It's beyond imperative that they do have those educational materials prominently displayed and available for their customers," she said.

As lawmakers consider budgets to help people deal with medical care for the coronavirus, Jablon said, they should also make sure there's plenty of funding for mental health services.

If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, visit the National Suicide Lifeline or call 1-800-273-TALK. Or, if you'd rather not talk in person, you can text w-y-o-274-1741.

Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Melodie Edwards, at medward9@uwyo.edu.