In an effort to keep guns out of the hands of children, several agencies are joining forces this weekend to give away hundreds of lock boxes and trigger locks.
The event to promote safe gun storage comes after a recent review of youth suicides in the area showed a majority of kids who died had easy access to guns.
It also revealed that the suicide victims showed few warning signs of a problem.
The review, the first of its kind in the area in several years, was put together by the Benton-Franklin Health District in an attempt to better understand youth suicides and how to prevent them.
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Officials and volunteers will hand out 350 lock boxes and 50 trigger locks from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at the Kennewick Ranch & Home on Columbia Center Boulevard. The safety devices will be given out until their gone.
“We understand that this is a hot button issue in our area,” said Kathleen Clary-Cooke, who works for the health district. “We are absolutely making no comment or judgment on gun ownership. This is simply if you own a gun and kids could possibly have access to it, then we want those guns stored in a safe manner.”
Seattle Children’s Hospital has put on two similar giveaways recently on the west side of the state and had large turnouts, Clary-Cooke said.
Seattle Children’s will partner with Kadlec to pay the $25,000 for this weekend’s event, she said. At least $20,000 was spent to buy the lock boxes and trigger locks. Safe Kids Benton-Franklin Coalition is helping put on the event.
People must participate in a short gun safety education course before receiving a lock box or trigger lock. There is a limit of one item per person and two items per household. Anyone over 18 is encouraged to come.
“We expect people to be in line very early,” said Ranch & Home manager Clayton Davey.
The free giveaway was one of several recommendations in the recent review of youth suicide. Other recommendations focused on educating parents and improving mental health services.
A 22-person team of Mid-Columbia officials studied the deaths of six children in five incidents in 2013 and 2014. The deaths were related to suicide or gun violence. The kids ranged in age from 12 to 17 and were mostly boys.
Officials did not identify which cases were reviewed because of privacy issues.
The unsafe storage of guns was a factor in most of the cases, officials said. The giveaway is designed to keep guns away from kids of all ages, but especially teens who may be at greater risk to use them.
“They feel their emotions so strongly,” Clary-Cooke said. “What feels like just a bad day to an adult can appear like the end of the world to a teen.”
Police agencies in the Tri-Cities have given out trigger locks over the years. Officials say the free lock boxes aren’t usually handed out in this area and are a big draw.
“A lock box is a very effective way to keep an item you may have in your home for protection both safe and accessible,” said Capt Mike Cobb with Richland police. “In a crisis it can be very helpful and it also keeps your weapon away from people who shouldn’t have it.”
Between 2006 and 2010 there were 23 youth suicides in Benton and Franklin counties, according to a state Health Department study. A majority of those were in Benton County. The study considered a youth to be someone 10 to 24.
The study also showed there were 165 suicide attempts by youths in both counties during that period which required hospitalization.
Clary-Cooke told the Herald she is hopeful the giveaway will not only help educate parents but also save lives.
“If we can prevent one tragedy for one family then it will be worth everything all of the organizations have invested,” she said.
The number for the 24-hour crisis line for Benton and Franklin counties is 800-783-0544.