Anthony Colandro is aware suicides at gun ranges are rare, but it happened at his range, Gun for Hire, and that’s why his entire staff was trained on mental health first aid.
“We have life savers manual, suicide prevention. They do appreciate it. People will pick it up. Some will read it and put it back. Others will take it and put it in their pocket,” said Colandro.
Two-thirds of all gun deaths across the country are suicides. New Jersey’s suicide rates are half the national average.
“While both sides are fighting over the innate object, we want the gun, we’re allowing this stigma with mental health and not treating it,” he said. “People are afraid to report any mental health issues — if they’re depressed, going through a divorce or lost their job — because there’s a stigma attached to it. And in New Jersey, any hint of any mental duress, they lose their guns.”
Colandro says ranges are an environment gun owners trust to ask for help and resources. That’s why forensic psychologist Dr. Gianni Pirelli says one way to reduce suicide rates is for doctors to bring awareness to the front lines by training staff to spot warning signs.
“If they come in solo, if they seem very irritable, we give them a brochure from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, we give them Dr. Pirelli’s card and we tell them they can’t shot here,” Colandro said.
“I get calls on a somewhat regular basis of people saying, ‘You know, I really need to see a therapist who is going to be OK with me being a gun owner,'” said Pirelli.
It’s a partnership that’s happening more frequently.
The New Jersey Second Amendment Society says it has been pushing to get mental health resources to gun ranges, and the National Shooting Sports Foundation says it has started working with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Since last spring they’ve sent over 6,000 kits containing suicide prevention materials to retailers and ranges.
“I guarantee you we’ve probably, 100 people in the past 5 years we’ve identified something and we didn’t let them shoot,” said Colandro. “I also set up a system where all of the commercial ranges in New Jersey, we communicate with each other via an alert.”
A nearby range called ReloaderzNJ recently used that alert system when someone in the parking lot was talking about hurting himself.
“Before we even opened, we already experienced something, but it wouldn’t have played through because of the way our system is,” said Michael Nylen, co-owner of ReloaderzNJ.
The range’s president says safety is her priority. She hired Pirelli to train her staff before opening her new range.
“I like to keep all the rules of our second amendment in place, as well as safely put that gun in that person’s hand. And how do we do that? We have to screen. We have to screen, we have to look, we have to be aware,” said Cheryl Nylen, co-owner of ReloaderzNJ.
But in the process of creating the gun range, Cheryl toured the country and found not all ranges have the same safety protocols.
“I don’t blame them really because people in my field, medical and mental health professionals, a lot of times are not trained and they don’t understand gun ownership, or the gun culture or gun ranges, and we’re not connected. So how do you do that? You have to come here, and we have to learn from each other. Both sides have to come together,” Pirelli said.