Suicide prevention strategy for gun owners considered

The Judiciary Committee heard testimony Jan. 26 on a bill that seeks to create a point of intervention for an individual who is buying a gun for the purpose of suicide.

Sen. John Fredrickson
Sen. John Fredrickson

LB314, introduced by Omaha Sen. John Fredrickson, would require the state Department of Health and Human Services to develop materials that provide licensed firearm dealers with information about suicide prevention. Materials would include information on the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline and would be required to be distributed to all firearm purchasers.

Additionally, the bill would add suicide prevention training to the Nebraska State Patrol’s minimum training and safety requirements for a handgun training and safety course under the Concealed Handgun Permit Act.

According to the most recent data, Fredrickson said, the Nebraska suicide rate is higher than the national average. In 2020, there were 283 deaths by suicide in the state, which is equivalent to one suicide death every 32 hours, he said.

“Many are not aware that most firearm-related deaths are by suicide. In addition, of those suicide attempts by firearm, 90 percent are fatal,” Fredrickson said. “Because it can be so difficult to know if someone may be having thoughts of suicide, it’s vital to have these touchpoints.”

Julia Hebenstreit, speaking on behalf of the Kim Foundation and the Nebraska Association of Behavioral Health Organizations, testified in support of the bill. Suicide is a significant public health concern for Nebraskans, she said, and LB314 could prevent a number of suicides by providing a point of early intervention.

“We know that many people who are in suicidal crisis do not want to die. They are in extreme pain and don’t know where to turn,” Hebenstreit said. “By providing resources at this crucial point of purchase and licensure, we could reach them with information that could save their life.”

Patricia Harrold, a Nebraska gun rights advocate whose husband died of suicide by firearm in 2012, also testified in support of the bill. She said it’s important to make sure that all firearm owners have suicide prevention resources.

“[LB314] reaches out to our community in an educational and thoughtful way,” Harrold said. “It is not a burden to the firearms community in any way and it can save one life — it can save thousands.”

No one testified in opposition to the bill and the committee took no immediate action on it.

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