Question, Persuade, Refer

Suicide prevention expert suggests ways to keep guns out of the wrong hands

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Dr. Paul Quinnett is promoting a method of reducing gun violence that includes no arguments over what constitutes an "assault weapon," nor is there debate about whether to arm teachers.

Quinnett, a Spokane County psychologist and nationally recognized suicide prevention expert, offers another solution - provide firearms retailers with tools that will help them identify the warning signs that a gun buyer is likely suicidal and possibly also homicidal. And then support those gun sellers when they decide against making a sale.

"Helping gun dealers and range masters avoid selling firearms for inappropriate use is something we can do without risk of constitutional conflict," Quinnett said.

Quinnett is the developer of QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer), a widely used, three-step suicide prevention technique in which ordinary citizens are trained to identify suicidal behaviors and direct those in crisis to places where they can get help.

The Coeur d'Alene School District's teachers and staff members received QPR training from Quinnett during the 2011-12 school year. He has given presentations to Kootenai County mental health professionals and other community groups.

Providing similar training for firearms retailers and their salespeople is a temporary safety intervention, and not anti-gun, Quinnett said.

"Our aim is to invite the gun industry, with which I am familiar, to help us prevent perhaps 1 in 10 firearm suicides associated with the recent purchase of a weapon," Quinnett said.

Firearms account for 51 percent of deaths by suicide, more than all other methods combined, according to Quinnett.

Quinnett's suicide prevention training organization, QPR Institute, has partnered with injury prevention experts at Dartmouth and Harvard universities to produce a research-based online training program for gun dealers and range owners.

Quinnett, a gun owner himself, is a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America and was back page editor for Shooting Times magazine from 1988 to 1995.

"Most suicidal people are hoping you will stop them, that you'll do something or say something to help them make a decision," Quinnett says, in a free training video he offers online to gun dealers.

Individuals contemplating suicide will often ask polite questions or make statements that are actually coded requests for help, he explains, like: "I won't have this gun long."

Another warning sign, according to Quinnett, is a gun buyer with no knowledge about guns and no interest in learning about guns, safety or gun maintenance.

"I'm a gun owner and I have a substantial collection of guns," says Quinnett on the training video, speaking to firearms retailers. "You know and I know that anyone who's gun savvy and is looking to buy a gun has a million questions or has spent hours and hours researching that weapon's configuration, its downrange velocity, all kinds of technical questions will have been answered prior to the person making a purchase."

Quinnett said they plan to provide the online training to people who own guns also.

"Gun owners and their families have roughly three times higher risk of suicide than people who don't live with guns," says Quinnett.

Research by suicide and injury prevention experts shows, Quinnett said, that this higher risk is not because gun owners are more likely to think about or attempt suicide, nor are they more likely than non-gun owners to be mentally ill.

It's simply because guns are particularly lethal.

"It's important to separate for the public that guns are not unsafe, but suicidal people are. They're unsafe to themselves and sometimes others," Quinnett said.

The complete, 30-minute training video for gun dealers is available for viewing online at:

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