Trigger locks

Pediatrician Pepper Henyon shows a trigger lock, which she says is one way to keep Montana kids safe from guns. Bozeman Health is offering free trigger locks to people at their pediatrician clinics.

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Each year, nearly 1,300 children die from gunshot wounds. Roughly 38 percent of those deaths are the result of suicide.

The Centers for Disease Control released those statistics last year. Pepper Henyon, a pediatrician with Bozeman Health, said some of those deaths can be avoided.

On a recent afternoon, she twisted a trigger lock in one hand and its key in the other. The short cable runs through an unloaded gun, which while in place, makes it impossible to load.

“That’s just another step a teenager has to take to really have a lethal weapon,” Henyon said.

Bozeman Health Pediatrics recently received 1,000 trigger locks to hand out to gun owners. The donation came from Rural Institute for Veteran Education and Research as a tool for suicide prevention. It’s also part of an effort to avoid unintentional child deaths, though that’s less common.

In the wake of mass shootings, guns, violence and kids have held headlines across the nation. Henyon said her focus isn’t on gun rights or regulation, but how to make each home in Montana safer. Especially those where a teen with depression or a mental illness enters.

“We have a lot of guns in Montana,” she said. “The key is, if the guns are around, we need to make sure it’s a safe environment, both for the little children who may get themselves in trouble and the adolescents who may be struggling.”

Between 2005 and 2014, 80 Montana kids — ages 11 to 17 — killed themselves. Fifty of the kids used a gun, according to the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services.

The danger of that number rising isn’t going away.

Nearly 9 percent of Montana high school students and 12 percent of middle school students attempted suicide in the past year, according to the health department.

A clinic may not be where people envision talks about gun safety. But Henyon said it’s just one piece of the role doctors play in prevention.

“It’s added to my laundry list of questions,” she said. “That’s, ‘Is your kid getting buckled up in a seatbelt properly? Is your child brushing their teeth? Do you have guns in the home and how are they stored?’”

Henyon said ideally, gun owners have two lock safes, one for guns and another for ammunition. That’s a request that health departments back. But safes can get pricey and is a cost that not everyone takes on.

A recent study by the American Academy of Pediatrics revealed that one in three parents who own a gun keep it both locked and unloaded. According to the authors of the study, that minority remains “regardless of whether their child had or did not have a history of depression.”

The trigger locks aren’t hard to find or expensive. One version of the lock is on Amazon for less than $8. But Henyon said handing the lock to a parent means they don’t have to add it to their already long list of things to do. And it could save lives, she said.

“Ideally, we would never have another child who commits suicide in this town again, or the world,” Henyon said. “I mean, we should dream big.”

The trigger locks are free and available at Bozeman Health pediatric clinics.

If you need support, call the Montana Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text ‘mt’ to 741-741 and a crisis counselor will respond.

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Katheryn Houghton can be reached at or at 406-582-2628. Follow her on Twitter @K_Hought.

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