Local mental health experts met with Oak Tree Gun Club owners on Thursday to create a game plan to tackle firearm-related suicides.
Oak Tree owner Jim Mitchell met with the Santa Clarita Valley Suicide Prevention, Postvention and Wellness Committee and to address the issue head on and find solutions.
“If this group can save one person’s life,” Mitchell said, “it’s worth every minute.”
He agreed to launch a campaign and reach out to his network of friends with the California Rifle and Pistol Association to get statewide attention on the issue.
The club itself will start giving out suicide-prevention pamphlets with every gun that is sold and post the suicide prevention lifeline on their website, social media pages and on documents that must be signed before someone uses the shooting range, he said.
Finding solutions at the state level and, eventually, at the national level with his contacts at the National Rifle Association will have to be a bipartisan conversation, involving both the conservative and liberal end of the spectrum, according to Mitchell.
“We have a great deal of concern about suicide,” Mitchell said. “As people who are involved in the firearms industry in general, it is very important to get to the bottom of people who kill themselves with guns.”
Oak Tree has had five suicides on site, all of whom were young men and not regular members of the club, Mitchell said.
The last suicide occurred at the club in September, when a 20-year-old rented a rifle, spent hours at the club, ate dinner and talked to staff before taking his life just minutes before closing time.
“We would do almost anything to prevent that,” Mitchell said. “It’s the young people that just freak me out… we’re here to find ways to solve it.”
Suicides also have a serious impact on Oak Tree’s 100 employees, according to Betsy James, Chief Operating Officer of Oak Tree and Mitchell’s daughter. After a suicide, many of the employees feel remorseful for equipping the suicidal person with a gun.
“We know how to deal with an incident after it happens,” James said. “I want more, I want more for my staff and to be able to empower them and equip them.”
The gun club has a thorough vetting process to ensure no one has “questionable motives” when going to the range, James said. With all past suicides that occurred at Oak Tree, there were no obvious warning signs, she said.
Talking with the heads of Oak Tree was a major step for the committee, according to Larry Schallert, committee chair and assistant director of Student Health and Wellness/ Mental Health at College of the Canyons.
“We’ve been working really hard on suicide prevention,” Schallert said. “This is a game-changer kind of a meeting.”
If you or someone you know needs help, take action now by calling the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), The Los Angeles county Department of Mental Health’s Access Center Helpline at 800-854-7771 or 911. All services are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Mental Health and other resources for Santa Clarita Valley
Mental Health: It’s Part of All Our Lives 1-800- 789-2647
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800- 273-TALK
SCV Youth Project (661) 257.YOUTH (9688)
SRD~Straightening Reins – equine therapy 661-803-1641