Ali Williamson and Brenden Perkins have each lost several friends to suicide by gun.
There was a day last year when the young couple went to two separate funerals for friends who shot themselves.
“We had to leave one (service) early to make it to the next one in time,” Williamson said.
She and Perkins were heartbroken and frustrated. They wanted to do something.
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So they started a group called Locks For Life to raise awareness about firearm-related suicide and gun safety.
On Sept. 15, they’ll hand out nearly 500 gun lock boxes for free at Ranch & Home in Kennewick.
The store off Columbia Center Boulevard is a partner in the giveaway, along with the Benton-Franklin Health District, Safe Kids Benton-Franklin and Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland. Kadlec put up $10,000 to cover the cost of the lock boxes.
“We’re committed to keeping kids and families in this community safe, and this is one way we can do that,” said Emily Volland, a marketing and communications manager for the hospital. “This is one tool in our tool kit.”
The lock boxes are big enough to hold one handgun each. They’re secured with a combination lock.
Perkins, an outdoorsman who owns guns, said the effort isn’t about taking away firearms, but making them safer.
In Washington, the vast majority of gun deaths are suicides.
Earlier this year, The Spokesman-Review newspaper analyzed state death records and found that about 4,100 people died by suicide with a firearm between 2010 and 2017 — or nearly half of all suicides and more than three-quarters of all gun deaths.
The Tri-Cities has seen a spike in suicides.
Last year, 48 people died by suicide in Benton County, which is the most in a decade.
Franklin County saw six confirmed deaths by suicide last year.
Suicide attempts often happen during short-term crises, so restricting means — like locking up guns — can be a critical in prevention, experts say.
Williamson, 19, a Hanford High School graduate who’s headed to Central Washington University, said working on Locks For Life is her way of trying to make a difference after losing so many friends.
Perkins, 20, a Kiona-Benton City High grad who attends Columbia Basin College, agreed.
“That’s all we want to do,” he said.
The giveaway runs from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sept. 15 while supplies last. Ranch & Home is at 845 N. Columbia Center Blvd.