The Madison Police Department has partnered with the Safe Communities of Dane County to hand out free gun locks in hope of decreasing the number of suicides in the area.
Suicide is Dane County’s number one cause of violent death, far exceeding homicide, said Cheryl Wittke, the director of Safe Communities of Dane County, the charity partnered with MPD. Dane County loses between 50-70 people a year to suicide, most of which are preventable by taking the appropriate steps like locking up guns, Wittke said.
Professor Michael Scott, a UW law professor as well as a previous member of MPD, said by diminishing access to weapons, the impulsive factor in the decision of taking one’s life can be avoided.
“There is a time in which someone is considering it, and then there is a more immediate time where they take the steps necessary to carry out the act,” Scott said. “It is within that immediate time period in which if a person does not find the means to commit suicide, they might not succeed in doing so.”
Making it easier for someone to commit suicide will make it more likely that they will, Scott said, adding by simply changing the method available to them can affect whether they live or commit suicide.
Gun locks can play a large role in these life or death situations, Scott said.
MPD spokesperson Joel DeSpain, agreed and said suicides are often an impulsive act, citing studies that show people think for fewer than a couple minutes before acting on the decision to commit suicide.
Gun locks create a safer environment and can slow down their decision, giving people in a dark place an opportunity to reflect, he said.
Research shows that we tend to focus more on people’s state of mind when they commit suicide rather than on people’s means to commit suicide, DeSpain said. It is important to look at how people are dying and find a way to prevent this, DeSpain said.
According to Wittke, prevention is the whole concept behind handing out gun locks as Safe Communties of Dane County is an injury prevention coalition. It looks at top causes of injury in Dane County and pulls together partnerships to address them, she said.
“Handing out gun locks is a statewide-funded project,” Wittke said. “The gun locks were awarded to us by a grant from the Charles E. Kubly Foundation.”
Scott also added the goal of the police is to make it more difficult for someone to try to commit suicide. With the intent of the initiative to prevent suicide, Scott said handing out free gun locks can effectively do so.
Taking this initiative is important for the community because it gives us the opportunity to make households safer, Scott said.
This foundation provided 3,000 gun locks, Wittke said.
According to an MPD statement, they will be handing out gun locks at all district stations, and at MPD’s training center from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday.