From Prevention to Aftermath: Exploring Colorado’s Gun Violence Epidemic

Manuel and Patricia Oliver in front of their gun violence prevention tour bus.
Photo by Maeve Conran.

Different Organizations Tackle Gun Violence Prevention from Different Angles

Gun violence in Colorado recently hit a 40-year high according to data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Kira Zizzo looks at different approaches different organizations are taking to try to tackle the issue.

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“We lose more than 67 individuals in this country, every day, to firearm suicide,” said Colleen Creighton, citing new data from Johns Hopkins University. Creighton is the director of End Family Fire, a campaign that promotes safe storage of firearms and discussions surrounding firearm suicide.

Colorado’s gun suicide death rate is nearly twice the national average, and is the tenth highest in the country. Easy access to a gun increases the likelihood of suicide by 300%.

Start-up company Biofire, located in Broomfield, produces “smart guns” that requires an owner’s biometric data, such as fingerprints and facial recognition, to activate.

The Alliance of Responsible Gun Ownership (ARGO) advocates for mandatory gun licenses, universal background checks, and red-flag laws.

During the 2023 legislative session, at least four pieces of gun safety legislation were passed and signed. These measures include raising the minimum age for firearm purchases to 21, and introducing an extreme risk protection order (aka a red flag law). This law broadens the scope of individuals who can request restrictions on firearm possession for those considered to be a threat to themselves or others.

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A Harm Prevention Approach is Vital to Gun Violence Prevention 

Colorado has one of the highest suicide rates in the nation according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Suicide rates are even higher in the neighboring states of Wyoming and New Mexico and are well above average across much of the western U.S.

KGNU’s Alexis Kenyon spoke with Dr. Emmy Betz, a professor of emergency medicine and practicing emergency physician at the University of Colorado and the Anschutz medical campus to gain insight as to why.

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Over the past decade, suicide rates for youth in the United States have risen by 60%. In 2021, approximately 30% of high school girls reported seriously considering suicide, with nearly half of students who identified as LGBTQ and over 25% of those identifying as American Indian or Alaska Native also reporting the same. Firearms play a significant role in teen suicides, with nearly half of youth suicides involving a parent’s gun.

In Colorado, statistics show that most suicides are not among young individuals but rather men aged between 25 and 55. Many of these men are gun owners, and they do not have a parent to take away or secure the firearm.

Statistically, many of those who commit suicide in Colorado have not received any mental health treatment. The state has faced scrutiny for what some consider a broken mental health safety net. However, it is important to note that help is available through various channels, such as the 988 hotline, walk-in crisis centers, and emergency departments. Encouraging people to reach out for support is crucial in de-stigmatizing help-seeking behaviors.

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Guac Tour Visits Table Mesa King Soopers

The family of a student killed in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in 2018, is on a national tour. They’re raising awareness about the impact of gun violence on families and communities.

On Friday, they came through Colorado where they visited several mass shooting sites including King Soopers in Boulder, Columbine, and Aurora. For Rocky Mountain Community Radio, Maeve Conran reports.

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“It’s a legit exchange of support,” said Manuel Oliver, who lost his son, Joaquin “Guac” Oliver. “We’re not a rock band on tour, we’re not politicians on campaign. It’s just…we know, what it feels.”

Patricia Oliver, Joaquin’s mother, placed a rock in the memorial garden beside the parking lot at King Soopers to honor those who were murdered on March 22, 2021. These rocks were made by a group of women in Parkland as a symbol of remembrance.

“So every time I place a rock, it means that there is a group behind that cares about the issue,” said Patricia Oliver.

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