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Utah continues to have one of the highest suicide rates in the nation, with 10 Utahns taking their life each week and more than half of those using a gun, statistics show.
In an attempt to curb those deaths, especially among young people who frequently use a parent's firearm, Rep. Steve Eliason is proposing providing an incentive to gun owners to buy a trigger lock or gun safe and pairing it with efforts to expand suicide-prevention education.
"The experts say, look, if you want to move the needle on suicide prevention, you've got to educate people on gun safety and you've got to get guns secured," said Eliason.
Eliason will be releasing legislation soon that would offer a state-funded rebate to all the gun owners in the concealed-weapons and hunter-education databases for the purchase of a gun safe or trigger lock.
Retailers, in order to be eligible for the incentive, have to be federally licensed gun dealers and have to agree to participate in a suicide-prevention program in the store.
Harvard University has put a similar program in gun stores in New Hampshire, where about half of gun stores now voluntarily offer suicide prevention materials and education.
"A lot of people go into the gun store and buy a gun and use it once [on themselves], sometimes in the store," he said, noting that a gun store in his district has had several suicides in the store in just the last few years.
The rebates will come from a $2.4 million surplus that has piled up from concealed-weapons permit fees. Eliason originally planned to offer a $50 rebate, which he said would be enough to make a dent in the price of a safe, but decided to leave the amount up to the board that oversees the permits.
Clark Aposhian, chairman of the Utah Shooting Sports Council, said his organization wholeheartedly supports Eliason's effort. Aposhian said the group had been looking for a good way to spend the surplus in the permit program on issues related to the gun owners who paid the fees.
"Representative Eliason came to us with a suicide-prevention bill and we saw a perfect place where we could use that money and encourage safety in the home by giving back to the permit holders," he said.
Another bonus, Aposhian said, is that two of the nation's largest makers of gun safes have headquarters in Utah.