Swope Health is now offering free gun locks or lockboxes to anyone interacting with its Crisis Services team.
The gun-safety initiative is a response to increasing rates of suicide in the United States and the recognition that firearms were used in more than half of all suicides. Studies show an alarming increase in suicide deaths among Black youth and adolescents; at the same time, Americans are buying guns at roughly twice the level of 15 or 20 years ago.
The gun lock and lockbox giveaway is also in response to alarming gun violence in Kansas City, which is contributing to a new record of homicides in 2023. As of July 24, the city has seen 114 homicides, according to the Kansas City Police Department. There have also been more than 265 non-fatal shootings.
The Swope Health mobile outreach unit carries two types of gun locks and two models of lockboxes for free distribution. The goal is to keep guns safely out of reach from persons who may have suicidal or homicidal thoughts, said Laurie Cox, Director of Crisis Services at Swope Health.
“We know that if we can encourage a person in crisis to slow down, to shift their focus elsewhere, the moment of crisis can pass,” she said. For example, she said, one client has taped photos of family members on the gun lockbox, so whenever there’s temptation to act with the gun, they first encounter beloved images that spark a different emotion.
“Anything that can shift focus can help slow down the access to the gun and maybe prevent violence,” she said.
The Swope Health program is funded by the Missouri Department of Mental Health, as part of the national rollout of the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. Swope Health is part of the network of caregivers supporting the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.
The 988 lifeline, which launched just one year ago in July 2022, is a three-digit phone call that works in the same way as 911. When you dial 988, you will be connected with a crisis counselor trained to provide care and support for anyone experiencing mental health-related distress. Organized by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services through its Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the program can assist with thoughts of suicide, substance use crisis, trauma, or other emotional distress.
A regular part of the work of the Crisis Team is to reduce access to lethal means, such as firearms, sharp objects and medications. Case managers, therapists and members of the crisis team routinely talk with families about how to remove those lethal items when caring for someone struggling with suicidal or homicidal thoughts.
The guidance uses an approach known as CALM, Counseling on Access to Lethal Means, which has been proven effective. Case managers create a specialized and personalized safety plan for each client, and educate the family and support structure on the evidence behind the approach.
Swope Health joins other organizations, including the Kansas City Police Department, Children’s Mercy Hospital, and Grandparents for Gun Safety, a local non-profit, in offering free gun locks. There are several programs at other organizations around the country as well.
For more information or to request a gun lock or a lock box, please call the Swope Health Crisis Team at 816-599-5630.