Washington State House Democrats


Judiciary Committee looks to improve suicide awareness and prevention

OLYMPIA – The House Judiciary Committee will hold a public hearing for House Bill 2793, aimed at raising awareness and increasing suicide prevention education, on Tuesday, January 26 at 10 a.m. in House Hearing Room A.

“The consequences of suicide are devastating to families and the figures are alarming,” said the bill’s prime sponsor, State Rep. Tina Orwall of Washington’s suicide rate, which is fourteen percent higher than the national average, and it is the eighth leading cause of death among Washingtonians. “But it is the nation’s most preventable form of death, and we all have a role in averting it by forming partnerships and working together to raise awareness and limit access to lethal means.”

The Des Moines Democrat, who has authored successful suicide prevention measures over the past five years, said that one of the most effective ways to reduce suicide in our state is by keeping lethal means out of the reach of people who are at risk of suicide. “My bill is focused on awareness and prevention education, including safely storing guns and prescription drugs so that individuals at risk cannot easily access them,” she added.

Orwall’s legislation would build awareness and reduce access to lethal means by:

  • Creating a “Safe Homes Task Force” to develop suicide prevention messages and trainings for firearms dealers and owners, pharmacy schools, and firearm safety educators. The task force will be administered and staffed by Forefront at the University of Washington School of Social Work.
  • Requiring the Department of Health to develop a “safe homes partner” certification for firearms dealers, and offering a B&O tax credit for firearm dealers certified as safe home partners.
  • Directing the Department of Fish & Wildlife to update its firearms safety pamphlet to incorporate suicide awareness and prevention materials.

A companion to House Bill 2793 will be sponsored by Sen. Joe Fain, R-Auburn.

“This suicide prevention education act will help save lives. We all want to see the extremely high suicide rate in Washington come down. Working together in a coalition of gun rights advocates, suicide prevention experts and the firearms dealers will have a measurable impact. I am excited to be a part of this important work,” said Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Second Amendment Foundation.

Currently, in Washington, suicides account for nearly 80 percent of all firearm deaths. Overall, 49 percent of all suicides are death by firearms, and 19 percent are death by poisoning or drug overdose. With the goal of having safer homes and reducing suicide deaths in our state, the task force in Orwall’s legislation will create and evaluate a suicide prevention pilot program in two counties—one rural and one urban—with high suicide rates, to pair suicide prevention training with distribution of safe firearm storage devices and medication disposal kits.

“Suicide is far too prevalent and a leading cause of death in Washington state. Pharmacists, as primary care providers in our communities, are key players in the identification of suicide risk,” said Jeff Rochon, CEO of the Washington State Pharmacy Association. “We support the intent of this legislation and look forward to working in partnerships to address this serious problem.”

Orwall’s measure has a diverse list of co-sponsors, including Reps. Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen, and Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, and has the support of the 2nd Amendment Foundation, the State Department of Veterans Affairs, the Washington State Pharmacy Association, Seattle Children’s Hospital, the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Washington, the UW School of Pharmacy, and the Alliance for Gun Responsibility.

“This bill is about new and essential partnerships to reduce suicides. Firearm retailers and pharmacists are in a unique position to raise awareness about suicide as a public health problem and to encourage safe storage of these potentially lethal means,” said Forefront co-founder Jennifer Stuber. “If we pass this bill, we will be changing the conversation about suicide in Washington and setting the bar higher for the rest of the nation.”