This weekend, students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and March for Our Lives are coming to Utah as part of their “Road to Change” tour. With emotions running high as protests and counterprotests take shape, it's hard to imagine how gun control and gun rights folks will ever be able to talk or work together.

As a public health practitioner and a gun lobbyist, we remain hopeful. We've been part of a collaboration on suicide prevention that shows how diverse organizations can work together to save lives. Despite our differences, common ground has only begun to be explored. We hope our professional partnership and suicide prevention journey can help instill some optimism.

In Utah, 85 percent of gun deaths are suicides. The reason people in gun-owning households are more likely to die by suicide is not that gun owners are more depressed or suicidal, but because they have easy access to the most lethal means. A firearm attempt is almost always a firearm death. Guns are fast and irreversible — there isn’t time to reconsider or to rescue someone once the trigger is pulled.

Together, our groups realized that by limiting access to a firearm for those at risk, we can enable a person to survive a suicide attempt and get help. Because it’s not true that “they’ll just find another way.” Over 90 percent of people who attempt suicide and survive do not go on to take their lives.

Collaborative efforts to prevent suicide in Utah involve government officials, faith leaders, researchers, survivors, clinicians and businesses. From clinical protocols and epidemiological research to gun storage solutions and firearm instruction curricula, the work is ever-growing. And it doesn’t require government mandates or restrictions on firearm ownership.

What does this type of collaboration require?

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It requires learning about guns from the perspective of gun owners. For example, at Intermountain Healthcare we are working to help caregivers talk about gun safety with patients. Developing trainings and guidelines has required understanding the role guns play in personal recreation, family protection and cultural identity. The input of gun owners helps to ensure messages resonate. As a health system, we have come to recognize that most gun owners responsibly buy, own and use firearms. Just as in health victories related to tobacco and alcohol, our goal need not be prohibiting consumption but taking smart steps to live more safely with products that can cause harm.

It requires that the gun community actively step forward to understand the data, enhance safety practices and modify social norms. Together, we can protect our families, our friends and our freedoms. Whether it’s helping parents understand that guns need to be kept far from the hands of curious kids and impulsive teens, babysitting the firearms of a buddy who is going through a divorce or speaking up when we feel someone may be a risk to themselves or others, we must constantly help our neighbors and friends understand the risks and responsibilities that come with owning a firearm.

Most of all, this kind of work requires deep trust. We must listen, ask questions and put learning new perspectives ahead of winning the arguments. We must enter spaces that are unfamiliar, whether that’s a shooting range or a health care coalition meeting, with a willingness to learn and to move outside our comfort zones. Guided by a thirst for greater empathy and knowledge, we must bring together the people and data that matter the most for preventing injuries and deaths. Political polarity and emotional vitriol cannot be excuses for inaction.

Every day, we meet people who have lost friends and relatives by firearm, who care about protecting their children and families, who believe in responsible firearm handling and want to help save lives. We hope our collaboration on suicide prevention in Utah can provide a bit of hope that it is possible to move beyond the stalemate. Because protecting the people we love is something on which we can all agree.

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