“More than half of U.S. firearm deaths are suicides. What is covered mostly in the media is mass shootings, but what we’re seeing in data and statistics is that people are dying more by suicide.”
In 2022, about 48,000 people (more than twice the seating capacity of TD Garden) died due to firearms in the U.S. – an all-time high. More than half of those deaths were suicides. DeeDee’s Cry, the Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence, the MGH Center for Gun Violence Prevention, and Samaritans partnered in September 2023 to host the webinar, “Preventing Suicide through Gun Safety,” in recognition of Suicide Prevention Month and in response to escalating gun violence in the U.S. During this program, panelists from the partner organizations discussed connections between access to firearms and suicide risk. The panel reviewed warning signs of suicide, current firearm safety policy in Massachusetts, and future directions for advocacy on these issues in Massachusetts.
Toy Burton is the Founder of DeeDee’s Cry Suicide Prevention & Family Support & the Roxbury Unity Parade. DeeDee’s Cry is named after Founder and Executive Director, Toy Burton’s sister, Denita Shayne Morris (DeeDee), who died by suicide at the age of twenty-three in 1986. In 2017, Toy searched the internet to see what support was available to families impacted by suicide. What Toy found was that agencies that were focused on suicide prevention weren’t focused on BIPOC communities. As a suicide attempt survivor, Toy knew what it felt like to need support only to feel as though she wasn’t being heard. This led to the founding of DeeDee’s Cry.
Gretchen Fischer Felopulos, Ph.D,. is a staff psychologist in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital and Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School. She is a member of MGH’s Suicide Think Tank, a group of mental health professionals working together to improve risk assessment, treatment, and prevention and sits on the Center for Racial Equity & Justice committee of the MGH Psychiatry department. As the Education & Training Lead for the MGH Center for Gun Violence Prevention, Dr. Felopulos is also invested in promoting gun safety efforts and risk reduction via provider education, research, community outreach, and advocacy.
Kacy C. Maitland, LICSW, is the Chief Clinical Officer for Samaritans, a Massachusetts-based suicide prevention organization. In that role, she oversees all programming, including the 24/7 crisis helpline, youth text line, grief support services for those who have lost loved ones to suicide, and suicide prevention community education. Kacy has over 15 years of experience in the field of mental health. She has practiced as both a trainer and clinician in a variety of settings, including working with those struggling with severe and persistent mental illness, and holds leadership roles with community organizations and government policy advisory groups. Kacy is a Commissioner for the Disabled Persons Protection Commission (DPPC) for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. She has also been an Adjunct Professor of Social Work at Simmons University Graduate School of Social Work and in Sociology at Quincy College.
Ruth Zakarin spent over 25 years working with youth and adults impacted by domestic and sexual violence before becoming the inaugural Executive Director of the Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence in May of 2019. With over 125 member organizations, the Coalition works to address gun violence in all its forms through advocacy, public awareness, coalition building, and community organizing. Ruth has her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania and is also trained as a community organizer. She is particularly interested in creating models of trauma informed advocacy and policy making. Outside of her Coalition work, Ruth is very involved in local interfaith organizing, is an avid knitter and foodie, and is the proud mom of two incredible young adults.
Extreme Risk Protection Orders
During the program, panelists discussed Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPOs), and how they can be used in Massachusetts to temporarily prohibit someone from owning or purchasing firearms or ammunition to decrease their risk or hurting themselves or others:
Panelists shared a number of resources for those who are struggling or worried about a loved one:
- 988 National Suicide & Crisis Lifeline – Samaritans staff and volunteers are available 24/7 to answer calls and texts from those in need of a compassionate listener
- Hey Sam – Peer-to-peer mental health support textline for young people, a program of Samaritans
- Suicide Grief Support services for those who have lost a loved one to suicide
- How to Help Someone Who is Struggling
- ERPO Information
- Safe Gun Storage Information
- Podcast: Coping with Gun Violence Together
- Programs from DeeDee’s Cry for BIPOC Communities