Blog by WTTA Staff

One of WTTA’s many missions is education. Not just to firearms owners about mental health matters, but also to mental health practitioners about gun culture. As of this writing, more than 400 people have attended At the Intersection of Guns and Mental Health, our three-hour suicide prevention and firearms cultural competency course.

Back in spring of 2019, Mike met Jake and appeared on Jake’s mental health podcast, Noggin Notes, after which the two discussed various ideas on how to de-stigmatize the gun world for clinicians. At that time Jake was connected with various mental health licensing boards in Nevada and suggested that WTTA could provide training that would count for continuing education units (CEUs) that are required for license renewal. Mike loved the idea and the concept was born.

In just a couple of short months, a curriculum had been crafted and Mike, Rob, and Jake launched the first of these classes at Reno Guns & Range in Reno, Nevada. This inaugural class had 14 people enrolled and consisted of an overview of WTTA, an understanding of suicide-by-firearm statistics, a basic introduction to types and styles of guns, small group discussion about how to intervene with a firearm owner who’s at risk, time spent shooting on the range, and then a debrief and discussion of literature. The second class was held in late November and had 12 people attend, with a third one scheduled for March in Las Vegas. However, the pandemic hit, and the Vegas class was scrapped.

Enter: the world of Zoom.

This was a blessing in disguise for our courses because what we realized is that we could reach so many more people without having to be in person. We scrapped the range component and recrafted the curriculum to include a section about how “red flag” laws and expanded background check laws serve as an obstacle to care. We also partnered with CASAT at the University of Nevada to host the course on their platform because it could handle large volumes of attendees, and turned it into a live, interactive webinar that we held twice in the fall of 2020.

The October class had 74 people logged in and 96 individual attendees. The December class had 236 people logged in and although we are awaiting the survey totals, we believe that attendance exceeded 300 individuals.

Here’s the best part: the reviews were overwhelmingly supportive and people want more. So, more we shall give them.

Part 2 of this three-part course will include a much deeper examination of the stigma associated with getting clinical help – especially during times of crisis – but not just among gun owners. We plan to include law enforcement, military, and physicians in our panel of presenters, as well as some live role-played vignettes to help the attendees get a better sense of how a crisis intervention might look, along with pragmatic strategies for creating a welcoming environment for those who work in professions that are traditionally suspicious of, or overly stigmatize, the receipt of mental health care.

Furthermore, we anticipate partnering with some other leaders within the mental health profession who are also addressing the firearms stigma issue, such as Gianni Pirelli, who authored the groundbreaking book The Behavioral Science of Firearms, which has played an enormous role in our own efforts. These people and their literature will be discussed even further in part 3, alongside a lengthy in-person range experience wherein the attendees will get to hear from certified instructors and utilize multiple types of guns in an effort to understand the culture at its depth.

Our goal at WTTA is not merely to talk about awareness or to throw statistics on social media. We are actually doing the hard work required to bring two previously separated cultures together in mutual understanding of one another. We believe – and the early results confirm – that collaboration and consensus building can only happen when, in the spirit of Christian Conte’s Yield Theory, we take the time to meet people where they are.

We look forward not only to saving lives, but also to improving relationships, families, and overall mental wellness while also advocating for the fundamental human right to keep and bear arms. We invite you to help us along the way.