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Suicide and gun violence among youths subject of prevention meeting in Durango

State health department takes notes on grassroots suggestions to curb firearms-related tragedies
Jonathan McMillan, director of gun violence prevention for the Colorado health department, attended the La Plata County Suicide Prevention Collaborative’s meeting at the Durango Public Library on Friday. He told attendees personal stories about his brushes with mental health problems and gun violence and invited community members to share details about their grassroots programs and efforts to curb youth gun violence. (Christian Burney/Durango Herald)

Prevention versus intervention – and the “finality” of gun violence – were key topics of a forum held Friday in Durango to discuss gun-related suicide.

The forum was hosted by the La Plata Suicide Prevention Collaborative and Communities that Care. It was attended by area residents and staff members from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Jonathan McMillan, director of gun violence prevention for the CDPHE, took notes, heard stories and identified the needs of suicide-prevention organizations where the state might be able to help.

Durango Police Department Officer Jonathan Mizner said the majority of gun violence in La Plata County involves adults. Often, substance abuse or mental health issues are factors in incidents, he said.

But when it comes to youths, gun violence and suicide, he said children do not think about the future. Even though he isn’t fond of the example, he likened the situation to a breakup between a young couple.

“As adults, it’s like it’s not a big deal – somebody else is going to come along,” he said. “... But to them (youths), it is the end of the world. So the things that happen in their lives are at the end of the world.”

He said kids who resort to suicide or other gun violence don’t understand the immediacy, finality or permanence of their decisions.

For help

Help for people having suicidal thoughts or for those who fear a person is considering suicide:

Axis Care Hotline:

24/7 local response to your crisis & behavioral health needs: (970) 247-5245


(800) 273-TALK (8255) or text “TALK” to 741741


(888) 628-9454




(800) 448-3000.


(877) 542-7233 or safe2tell.org


(844) 493-8255 or text “TALK” to 38255 or online at coloradocrisisservices.org to access a live chat available in 17 languages. The line has mental-health professionals available to talk to adults or youths 24 hours a day.


Colorado chapter information available at afsp.org/chapter/afsp-colorado/


A website for adult men contemplating suicide is available at mantherapy.org

“When you do firearms training, the very first thing they’re going to tell you is, ‘Do not point this thing at anything that you’re not willing to destroy or kill.’ That puts it in your mind,” he said. “A lot of people that have children who own guns have not even had any of that kind of training.”

He said shootings occur about once a month in La Plata County, but instances of menacing – brandishing a gun as a threat during a case of road rage, for example – are more frequent.

One attendee, who said he’s worked with students and talked with them about gun education over 30 years, said there isn’t enough being done in schools to educate children about mental health, suicide prevention and gun violence.

He said the subject may be controversial, but from a policy standpoint, communities and the state must “get serious” about informing people, including youths.

“I think kids aren’t getting the education, they’re not getting the acknowledgment, they’re not getting the pieces that we need upstream,” he said. “Then we see these terrible tragedies of suicide, shootings and those kinds of things. And they don’t realize the finality of what it is.”

He said gun knowledge also differs among rural- and urban-raised kids. Kids in rural areas who grow up around guns have a better understanding of how dangerous – how final – guns can be. Young people raised in urban environments know about guns through video games like “Call of Duty.”

Suicide and gun violence prevention were key talking points at the La Plata Suicide Prevention Collaborative’s monthly meeting on Friday at the Durango Public Library. (Christian Burney/Durango Herald)

He asked why the state doesn’t mandate mental health or gun safety lessons in schools. He questioned what the long-term outcome of such a practice would be, saying it would likely prevent more gun violence.

“In the Durango School District a lot of years ago, in ninth grade, it was actually required that you take hunters safety. It was required,” he said. “We had BB guns and we took it in P.E.”

Other attendees pointed out that secure gun storage should be standard in homes, especially with children around, and that gun education is vital in the home as well.

Laurie Roberts, a Pine River Valley resident and school psychologist who has worked with Colorado schools, said one solution to curbing gun violence among youths is for the state to properly fund special education.

“In New Mexico, if a child has more needs, then a school district has more money to pay for those needs,” she said. “And here, it’s basically like, ‘Do the best you can.’”

She said parents have won a lawsuit against the state accusing the sate of Colorado of underfunding special education, but now the state is fighting back.

Through her work, she has implemented “proven violence-prevention curriculum” in special education programs that include social skills training, conflict resolution and empathy-building. The curriculum won a gold medal from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

She said her point is there are solutions that haven’t been implemented.

A forum titled “Trauma-Informed Caring for Youth Champions” is scheduled to be held at 10:30 a.m. April 4 at the Durango Public Library.


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