UW Today

January 6, 2016

UW faculty members join Inslee in gun violence announcement

News and Information

Jennifer Stuber, co-founder of Forefront: Innovations in Suicide Prevention, speaks while Gov. Jay Inslee and Monica Vavilala, director of the Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center, look on.

Jennifer Stuber, co-founder of Forefront: Innovations in Suicide Prevention, speaks while Gov. Jay Inslee and Monica Vavilala, director of the Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center, look on.University of Washington

Two University of Washington faculty members joined Washington Gov. Jay Inslee Wednesday as he announced a new initiative to reduce gun-related deaths by strengthening background checks and implementing a statewide suicide prevention plan.

Jennifer Stuber, an associate professor at the UW School of Social Work, and Monica Vavilala, director of the Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center, stood alongside Inslee as he made the announcement at a mental health center in Burien.

“This is a public health response to a public health crisis,” Inslee said. “Every single day, somebody in the state of Washington dies from gun violence.”

Inslee’s announcement comes a day after President Obama announced expanded background checks and other measures intended to prevent gun violence nationwide.

Between 2012 and 2014, Inslee said, 665 people in Washington were killed by firearms. Almost 80 percent of those deaths were suicide, he said.

“No one should feel resigned to the fact that this sad reality is beyond our control, because it is not,” he said. “Washingtonians have made it clear they want action.”

Inslee ordered the state Department of Health and the Department of Social and Health Services, in collaboration with the UW and other state and local agencies, to collect and review data on gun-related deaths and injuries and recommend strategies in order to reduce those numbers. Additionally, Inslee announced a statewide suicide prevention plan that will provide screening tools and target high-risk populations through a social media campaign.

Inslee said he wants to strengthen the law approved by voters in 2014 that requires gun buyers purchasing firearms from other individuals to undergo background checks. To that end, he will require the state Office of Financial Management to determine how effectively information is being shared among state agencies and whether improvements are needed. Inslee is also asking the attorney general’s office to analyze current enforcement practices against illegal attempts to buy guns.

Stuber, who lost her husband to firearm suicide in 2011, lauded Inslee’s initiative for recognizing that suicide impacts people of all ages, and for bringing suicide “out of the shadows” and recognizing it as a preventable public health issue. Stuber’s husband, Matt Adler, a successful corporate attorney, died at age 40 after battling depression and anxiety.

“With one bullet fired, I became a widow and single parent to two kids,” said Stuber, co-founder and faculty director of Forefront: Innovations in Suicide Prevention, an organization based in the UW School of Social Work.

Stuber said the national gun debate has long been dominated by a focus on mass shootings, though firearm suicides have outnumbered gun homicides for decades.

“We erroneously see deaths by guns as a risk imposed on us by other people, rather than a risk we and are family members are all vulnerable to,” she said. “By focusing on suicide, I think we can break down some of the barriers, the divisiveness. We need to work harder to find common ground.”

Vavilala said the Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center will launch a new website and social media effort to provide information about suicide prevention and safe firearm storage. The initiative will first focus on King County, she said, but the hope is to expand it statewide.

“With the support of Governor Inslee, we hope to make Washington a safe place to live, work and raise our families,” she said.

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