I am a gun owner. We have over ten guns in our house— guns that have been passed down for generations amongst my husband’s family. In the same way that family jewelry and furniture can carry sentimental value, these guns do as well. This is one of the many reasons Whitney/Strong is so focused on pulling gun owners into our organization and into our mission.
At Whitney/Strong we believe that most gun owners are responsible and that solutions for curbing gun violence should balance the burden placed on those responsible gun owners with the need for public safety. I encourage you to press pause on any preconceived notions you have regarding gun violence prevention and consider giving us your open mind. After all, no one wants more lives lost to gun violence.
After I reached a point in recovery to feel physically strong enough to be out and about, Waller and I contacted Cole Daunhauer at Knob Creek Gun Range to discuss our desire to partner together on the Gun Shop Project. The Gun Shop Project (GSP) was founded in New Hampshire in 2006. GSP distributes suicide prevention educational materials to gun shops, along with providing guidelines to avoid selling firearms to suicidal customers. The intent is that a suicidal customer will see the suicide hotline or educational materials when attempting to purchase a gun, giving them pause and perhaps preventing that suicide.
To get to know Cole and to better understand the culture of the shop, we, as a board, decided to train with him. Training included safe storage, principles of marksmanship, target practice and more. What you may not know about me is that I’ve never shot a gun before. Sure, I’m a southerner but proficiency with a firearm was limited to boys growing up and my curiosity never led me to push the stereotypical boundaries. Waller, on the other hand, did the camps, the badges, the hunting trips… all of it.
Leading up to the training, Cole was particularly kind to discuss the best approach for shooting. He mentioned the importance of coming when the range was closed to not drudge up painful memories from September 6th. He took great care in determining which firearm I would use. And, he was quick to suggest that I may not be ready for shooting but that there was no shame in feeling a bit timid. In my typical stubborn fashion, I dismissed any thoughts that I wasn’t ready.
On the first day of training, we spent much of the visit in class with Cole. I learned safety basics such as:
All firearms are always loaded.
Never point the muzzle at anything you aren’t willing to shoot.
Never put your finger on the trigger until your sights are on target and have made a conscious decision to shoot.
Always consider your target, what is adjacent to it, and what lies beyond it. You are accountable for every round.
Firearms belong in two places only – in a safe or on your person (in the case of someone who has been professionally trained to conceal/carry).
Using a firearm is the very LAST resort. When faced with danger, your best bet is to get away/out without ever having to use a firearm. However, be confident in your abilities to use this tool in a proficient manner should you not be able to get away/out.
Once we finished training, we headed over to the range. Cole had decided that I should use a Bersa Thunder 380 for my first shot. Again, I had zero reservations going into that moment. In fact, I was eager to see what shooting was all about.
Cole stepped up and into position, carefully demonstrating the many steps/positions prior to the shot. Once confident he’d conveyed all the necessary steps, Cole shot off several rounds. I was shocked by the initial sound. There was a portable locker sitting behind the line and it took everything within me not to jump behind it. I remember thinking, “I cannot do this. I am simply not capable”. While I was shot twelve times on September 6th, I didn’t see any of the bullets discharge. It is hard to even remember the sound of the shots as I was laser-focused on survival and getting home to my family. So oddly enough, this experience felt new and extremely terrifying.
Not one to back down from a challenge, I had a voice inside my head telling me, “You told everyone you were going to this. You have to do it.” And true to my character, I walked up to the line. Everything that Cole told me to do I did begrudgingly… “get into a good shooting stance”, “take a firm grip on the pistol ensuring your finger is straight and off the trigger”, “put in the magazine”, “pull the slide to the rear and let go chambering the round”, “get your hands in position again”, “line up the front and rear sights”, “put your finger on the trigger” … Dear God, I was so scared.
Somehow, just somehow, I did it. I shot a single round.
As soon as it happened casing flew up and to the right. I felt an overwhelming sense of relief as I safely placed the gun on the stand next to Cole, and immediately grabbed Waller for an embrace. It is difficult for me to think about how intense and cathartic that moment was. However, Cole was the perfect person for the job.
In the months following that moment, we’ve sent more board members to Cole to be trained and for target practice. We’ve spent hours discussing what steps a gun shop can take to prevent suicides and the accompanying data that supports the need for focus here as Kentucky is particularly problematic.
Did you know that in the state of Kentucky 73% of total firearm deaths were due to suicide? This is above the national average of 66% and seven percentage points higher than our neighbors to the north in Ohio.
We could not have found a better person to partner with first on GSP. Through the tremendous partnership between the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) and the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), we have been lucky enough to utilize their top-notch materials on suicide prevention. In the same way that Cole carefully approached my first shooting experience, he carefully approaches suicide prevention.
While we are in the early stages of the partnership, I look forward to continued lessons learned on how to better assist the Knob Creek Gun Range sales team as they approach difficult conversations. We are committed to supporting this business in addition to future partners.
If you have a gun shop connection and you’d like us to approach them regarding GSP, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, please utilize the resources above pulled directly from the AFSP/NSSF brochure utilized within Knob Creek Gun Range.