CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Ralph Demicco has watched the surveillance footage of a man shopping around his store, leaning on the counter and calmly chatting with the clerk before buying the gun he used to take his own life later that day. The man was one of three people, who in the span of a week purchased firearms from Demicco’s gun shop and used them to commit suicide.
“I was devastated,” Demicco recalled. “At the time, I remember saying over and over, ‘I just can’t believe it.’”
A review of the state medical examiner’s records showed that recently purchased firearms were being used in suicides roughly once per month in New Hampshire. Since the string of suicides in 2009, Demicco has joined forces with health professionals and gun dealers in a campaign to help gun stores and firing ranges learn ways to avoid selling or renting a firearm to a suicidal person. The campaign, known as The Gun Shop Project, also encourages gun businesses to share suicide prevention materials with customers.
“It’s not that gun owners are more likely to be suicidal or depressed. It’s that guns are the most lethal way for someone to take their own life,” said Elaine Frank, with the New Hampshire Firearm Safety Coalition. Firearm suicides account for more deaths than all other suicide methods combined and 65 percent of all gun deaths in the U.S., according to figures from 2011 provided by gunpolicy.org, an international group working to reduce gun injuries.
Since the project launched two years ago, groups in 15 states have reached out for guidance or have asked to use its informational posters and brochures. Scott Ridgeway, executive director of the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network, said his group hopes to distribute those materials to the more than 1,000 gun stores in his state by September. A Maryland gun dealer and an Illinois sheriff’s department have also expressed interest in the project, though most of the interest has come from suicide prevention groups.