The Gun Shop Owner

Janyce Demers, Rick Castillo and Ralph Demicco share an unfortunate bond.

They have all felt suicide hit close to home.

Demers’ son Zachary used a gun to take his own life when he was just 23.

“At that moment, we became members of a club we never wanted to join,” she says. “Our whole lives just changed. There was the day before and the day after.”

Castillo’s son Gregory died by suicide with a handgun the day before his 24th birthday.

Gregory Castillo was one of three people in just five days to take their own lives shortly after a purchasing a gun from Riley’s Sport Shop in New Hampshire, a shop owned by Ralph Demicco at the time.

After the string of suicides in 2009, Demicco and Elaine Frank, co-chair of the New Hampshire Firearm Safety Coalition, started the Gun Shop Project. The project is a campaign to prevent gun suicides.

Nearly 40,000 people per year die by suicide in the United States, half of them by using a firearm, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

“The goal of Gun Shop Project is twofold,” says Frank. “One is to engage gun shop owners in adding suicide prevention to the things that they screen for on a regular basis when making a sale -- to try and prevent selling a gun to someone who is actively suicidal.”

“The second -- and just as important -- part of the project is to utilize gun shops as a place to educate customers on the tie in between suicide and firearms and to try and engage them in holding on to guns when someone they are close to is at risk for suicide.”

Frank and Demicco support gun rights, and they believe their program is working to get gun advocates involved in suicide prevention.

“The common ground is that everybody -- regardless of whether they're pro-gun -- virtually everybody is anti-suicide,” says Frank.

In our society, people try to cover up suicide and move on, which is impossible, Rick Castillo says.

“I welcome the fact that a project that can help prevent suicide by handgun has grown out of the experience that my son had, getting a handgun very easily here in New Hampshire,” he says.

Demers has also been helping those who have lost loved ones. She is now a co-facilitator of a support group in Concord. She says the most important thing is reminding loved ones left behind that their feelings and emotions are normal and part of the process of healing.

“We try to make them feel comfortable and know that it’s not going to get easier, but it will get doable. It’s all a matter of how you choose to go for it,” Demers says.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

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