Executive Order targets suicide prevention, firearm violence

Source: Washington State Department of Health, Center for Health Statistics

Suicide prevention hotlines

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available by phone at 800-273-8255 or text at 741741. The line is open 24 hours a day. Local hotlines may be found at http://www.suicid....

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— Gov. Jay Inslee says his executive order on firearms is intended to reduce suicides in the state by first analyzing data and laws.

From 2012-14, 665 people statewide died from gunshot wounds, including 520 suicides, state Department of Health data shows.

Suicides are by “people who had a moment of depression. Who, if we can get them through it, can have a useful life,” Inslee said. “That’s a good thing and it shouldn’t be controversial.”

The governor’s order came Jan. 6, the same day health officials released the state suicide prevention plan. The order also came one day after President Barack Obama issued an executive action to curb gun violence, a plan that included more funding for mental-health treatment and more comprehensive gun sales background checks.

The governor’s order lists four actions:

• Collect, review and disseminate more data about gun violence

• Find gaps between laws and enforcement in gun crimes

• Implement the suicide prevention plan (ordered, but not enacted by legislation in 2014)

• Require the attorney general to update a 2007 review of gun possession laws

The suicide prevention plan mentioned a coalition established in Wenatchee following 30 suicides in Chelan and Douglas counties in 2012. Following an effort to raise awareness of suicides, the Wenatchee-East Wenatchee area’s number of suicides declined to just eight in 2014.

Counties with suicide rates higher than the state average are mostly rural, health officials said, naming several including Okanogan, Stevens, Chelan, Kittitas, Klickitat, Walla Walla, Asotin, and Spokane in Eastern Washington.

According to the plan, men 65 years and older have the highest suicide rate.

Suicide also disproportionately affects people in areas of poverty, American Indians and veterans, the plan said.

Numerous organizations and departments are tasked with completing the work cited in the order, including the Health, Department of Social and Health Services, Office of Financial Management and the attorney general’s office.

The suicide prevention plan aggregated data and recommendations from a variety of state and federal agencies. The governor’s executive order allows those recommendations to be enacted.

“Suicide is inextricably tied to firearms,” plan project manager Karyn Brownson said. “The real strength of this plan is that it calls on everyone to play a role in suicide prevention by having some coordinated movement and talking to each other.”

According to Steve Saxe, director of community health systems at the Department of Health, the order should help identify and disseminate specific data about suicide and firearms. Two examples of this kind of data, provided in the plan, are sexual orientation and gender identity.

“Frankly, the things we propose are modest,” Inslee said. “I’ve offered a hand to seek bipartisan successes dealing with gun violence. I’ve taken years to do that and the sad fact is we have not been able to fashion a bipartisan response.”

House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, and Senate Democratic Minority Leader Sen. Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island, support Inslee’s executive order.

Republican leaders said the order is unnecessary.

House Minority Leader Rep. Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish, whose family suffered a death from gun violence, said many gun-control laws already exist, but the laws are not being enforced. Criminals will ignore the law anyway, he said, adding he believes mental illness is an important factor to consider.

Senate Majority leader Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said that if the plan was “common sense” then the governor should have brought a bill to the Legislature.

The National Rifle Association supports legislative action that mitigates the mental-health crisis, according to organization spokesman Lars Dalseide.

“If they arrest and prosecute those who break the law and start properly treating the mentally ill, then maybe Gov. Inslee can begin focusing on the real problems facing law-abiding Washingtonians today,” Dalseide wrote in an email.


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