USA – -(AmmoLand.com)- Suicides of loved ones have affected a lot of people in the United States. Part of the problem is the stigmatism of mental health.
This stigmatism stops people from seeking the help that they need. Gun owners are especially concerned about seeking help in their time of need because of threats of things like Red Flag laws where the police can seize your firearms without due process. The fear of losing one’s gun rights is real.
One of the reasons they can take your guns through red flag laws is if you are a danger to yourself. In most states, you can let a friend or family member hold your firearms if you are having suicidal thoughts, but in states that have universal background checks, this isn't the case.
There is an organization that is looking to change that fact. Through partnerships with local FFLs, “Hold My Guns” allows gun owners to store their firearms if they are thinking about self-harm and allows you to get help without the concern of gun confiscation. This program shows that government intervention isn't needed to stop suicide by gun.
If you have your guns taken away through an extreme risk protection order (ERPO), it could take up to $10,000 to get your property back. Using the Hold My Guns program, the owner just goes back to the gun shop and picks them up like any other transfer when they are in a better state of mind.
Mental health is a big concern of mine since I suffer from a generalized anxiety disorder and a panic attack disorder. Preventing bad gun laws is another concern of mine. These reasons are why I was drawn to Hold My Guns.
Through my duties as the Virginia State Director of Gun Owners of America, I met the founder Hold My Guns, Sarah Albrecht. She started the program with Genevieve Jones. Our concern was that they would back new gun laws. Sarah was gracious enough to answer all of our questions. She put our minds at ease well enough to be invited to the first annual GOA Gun-A-Thon that we are holding this April.
I wanted to sit down and talk to Sarah about her organization for AmmoLand News. She was more than happy to share her mission with us.
John: What is “Hold My Guns”?
Sarah: Hold My Guns is a crisis firearm storage program, launching soon, in select gun shops and FFLs across the US.
It is entirely voluntary and is an option to help gun owners and their family members remove the temptation of misusing a firearm for suicide or violence during a mental health or personal crisis.
John: How did you come up with the idea?
Sarah: Sadly, out of a tragedy. Last fall, an 18-year-old teen in our community took her own life with a firearm. As a Range Safety Officer, people, including young teens, came to me and asked if I had changed my mind about implementing more gun control in Pennsylvania. My first response was that of grief, not looking to use a tragedy to push a political agenda. Simply “doing something” can be dangerous. We do not want to make new laws out of fear.
After grief settled, I started to investigate options that gun owners and their families have when someone is struggling with mental illness. I realized that, while there are in-home storage options, there were limited options for offsite storage.
About the same time, my neighboring state of Maryland passed Red Flag Laws. Gary Willis, 61, was shot in his own home when law enforcement showed up at his door at 5 am to serve the confiscation orders. While I understand that family members and physicians were concerned about Gary's safety, it was a clear reminder that Red Flag Laws could be abused, as they subvert due process, and can blindside someone which result in unnecessary death. Even Willis' family was furious and grieved at the outcome. They just wanted to get him to the help they felt he needed; not get him killed. I knew that there had to be a better way and one that was more liberty-based.
I did some research and learned that, in PA, it is illegal just to give a handgun to a friend for safekeeping. So that was not an option that would have helped the suicide case above. I came up with an idea to store firearms at gun shops and FFLs. It was already a trusted location within the community to purchase firearms, they have storage, they are familiar with federal, state, and local laws, they have interest in keeping their customers safe, and an interest in protecting the Second Amendment.
I visualized what the program would look like, operating in Gun Shops and FFLs, as a ubiquitous part of doing business, and mentioned it to my dear friends Genevieve Jones, whom I've known for years through IDPA, and her boyfriend Jon Patton. They both run the Gun Collective. Patton recommended that I talk to Joshua Prince, a Pennsylvania-based attorney who not only specializes in firearms law but pioneers the way to inform interpretations of the law to protects gun rights and human rights.
Gladly, I met with Prince and proposed the idea. He did significant research and concluded that the program would work, using the same process as a consignment return. This keeps transactions above board (vs. under the table) and reduces liability to our partners, which allows Gun Shops and FFLs, a regulated industry with random spot checks, to stay in business.
John: What is the interest level like in the program?
Sarah: Incredible. One beautiful thing is that it not only has been welcomed with the gun community (whom I love and am a part of), but also the mental health, medical, veterans, education, and personal enrichment communities as well. The idea of liberty-based solutions and taking ownership of personal problems resonates with Americans in all different walks of life.
John: How close are you to launching?
Sarah: Very close. Our first legal services milestone is $4,000. Donations now total $ 3,640. That milestone will pay for a corporation formation (which will turn into a nonprofit, once approved) and legal review of our gun shop partner handbook and materials for our launch.
We then will need to raise an additional $1,000 for publishing costs of said materials. We have potential partners across the US waiting in the wings for us to greenlight with board approval. While I feel eager to launch, having a strong foundation and reducing liability to our partners, as well as ensuring that HMG customers are also protected is of the highest importance.
Again, because we are utilizing existing infrastructure, we do not have to build lockers or create new storage facilities to begin this program. We can launch by simply providing materials and some training to existing, reputable gun shops and FFLs. They can use our brochures, storage stickers, logo for their window, and handbook, and they're good to go.
John: Some people will say, “Just give them to a friend to hold.” What is your response?
Sarah: Not only is that illegal in some states, like PA, but it also puts a lot of responsibility on friends and family members. What if that friend or family member doesn't have storage — space or appropriate firearms safe? This is a liability. Or, what if the gun owner doesn't have trusted friends or family — what are their options then?
Often family problems contribute to suicidal ideations and personal crises. Not everyone has an ideal family! Having a nonjudgmental, professional, third-party removes the stigma for getting the help that is often associated with judgmental family members. (How many people want their mother in law in their business when it comes to firearms?!) NO THANKS! Also, I have a great mother in law.
John: How would someone get their guns back?
Sarah: They would pick it up at the gun shop or when they felt that it was appropriate to do so. Following normal consignment procedures, common transaction gun shops use daily, the customer would fill out a 4473, and a background check would be run to verify that the gun owner did not have any outstanding warrants, PFAs, etc. This is standard practice for gun shops, and it is not creating any new procedures for them.
Should the background check fail, just as with a regular gun sale or a consignment return, a challenge form can be filed with the ATF and brought back to the storage partner, which would allow them to release the firearm. If the gun owner decides they no longer want the firearm, they will have the option to sell the firearm as a consignment to the shop. The intake documentation will have information about the value of the firearm upfront. Transparency is very important to us.
John: Does your organization support Red Flag laws or other gun control measures?
Sarah: No. Hold My Guns does not support Red Flag Laws. “Gun control measures” is a bit of a broad term, and I want to be clear that, in order to operate in gun shops and FFLs, our partners are subjected to operating under Federal, state and local laws in order to stay in business. Following consignment return procedures, a normal, daily part of gun shop operations, a background check is performed.
In some states, a consignment transaction must also include a waiting period. In the strictest sense, these regulations and laws are gun control. Please understand that we are working within the existing framework. Our program's premise is to have a liberty-minded solution to offsite firearms storage when a gun owner or a person in their household are struggling with mental illness or other personal crises.
Mental health and medical organizations we eventually will work with may have a different approach, but we do have clear boundaries. Many medical and mental health professionals use Red Flag Laws and risk protection orders to keep patients safe. That is because that is the only option they have to use. Already, we have been hearing from doctors, including a psychiatrist in California who donated $500 to our fundraising campaign, that Hold My Guns will improve the care that they can offer to their patients. It will give them a voluntary option instead of a forced one.
They are excited about empowering their patients, which often, from mental health and medical standpoint, improves the overall outcome of the treatment. It starts from a place of dignity and encouragement, rather than the discouraging premise of “you're unfit.” It is our hope that Hold My Guns option will be a positive catalyst for change for policies, and inspire other areas of commerce to come up with self-governance solutions to meet the needs of their respective industries.
John: It sounds like you have a pretty good legal team. Who is on it?
Sarah: Good is an understatement. It has been an absolute privilege to have attorney Joshua Prince's consultation on our program. He is keenly knowledgeable about firearms laws, history, and cases. He is mentally sharp, and his work is meticulous. Yet, he goes out of his way to ensure that his clients have a clear understanding of the law and how to interpret it to inform their decision-making process.
Joshua is passionate about protecting gun rights and human rights. He also regularly offers legal workshops, does public speaking events to inform people of their rights, and is a guest on television Once we meet our funding goal, we will begin working with attorney Jeffery Franklin, who is also in Prince's firm, to form our corporation that will become the nonprofit. This will serve as an umbrella for Hold My Guns, and allow us to receive donations to offset costs as well as offer educational programs through our storage partners.
Although it has been suggested to me by well-meaning individuals to use internet-based attorneys to save money, it was really important for me to have a solid, legally sound foundation. Hiring attorneys who are experts in our field ensures that all of our partner documentation will be concise and defensible. It may also be of interest to know that Prince recently co-wrote a GOA-backed Amicus Brief on the topic of involuntary commitment to mental health institutions (being 302'd as the colloquialism goes) that underscores the dangers of subverting due process:
John: What is your background?
Sarah: I'm 39. Daughter of a Vietnam veteran, Mark Phenicie. My family was very focused on being self-sufficient growing up, and we did encounter some financial hardships when my father lost his job and was either unemployed or underemployed during the recession in the 90s.
We were on welfare for a while, would dumpster-dive for food when it was scarce, made our own clothes out of fabric scraps, and lived with relatives to survive. Looking out for the needs of others was important to how we were raised. Even though we had very little, my parents encouraged us to share what we had with others. If we saw homeless people in the park, we would divide up food and invite them to join us. We would sing at the homeless shelters and retirement communities to cheer people up.
I really appreciate the grit and resilience that my childhood gave to me and a compassionate heart for those who are struggling emotionally and financially. I appreciate my dad's heart for his country – he was not drafted, he volunteered – and I appreciate his stories about what it was like to re-acclimate to civilian life in the 70s, coming back from a regimented lifestyle to bell-bottoms and an anything-goes culture. All these things have shaped how I see the world and care about others.
My husband Tom and I have been married for 20 years. We homeschooled our own five children for several years, although some are attending college while others are utilizing an online school. All five of our children have gone through a rifle league that is part of the Civilian Marksmanship Program. One just achieved the marksmanship level of Distinguished Expert, two are Experts, and two are Sharp Shooters.
I'm a Range Safety Officer for the Southern Chester County Youth Shooting League. In that training and my experience, I look out for shooters who are struggling emotionally.
The other hat that I wear is that I have been a doula and childbirth educator since 2008 and run a small business in the birth and postpartum field. I work in deliver rooms at hospitals and birth centers and have also attended home births. I have had training in helping expectant and postpartum women who are survivors of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse, and it is my honor to serve my clients, with all their complexities, and help them as they welcome a new baby into the world.
In my work, I also have clients who, out of the blue, have struggled with postpartum depression, depression after an unfavorable outcome such as the loss of a baby or having a baby who has special needs. Having high anxiety from lack of sleep and being inexperienced as new parents can also take a toll on mental health. Securing firearms (and other objects that may be misused) has been part of that plan to ensure that a woman who is working through treatment for depression is not tempted to harm herself or her children.
I also take a holistic approach as a support person. We work through mental, physical, and emotional challenges that clients face. Working with their medical team, encouraging exercise, help with meals and chores, having care for pets, support for breastfeeding, coordinated support from family and friends — these are all part of the scope of a plan I put together and support that helps families during a time of major transition.
I believe that this translates well to Hold My Guns and to help people going through times of mental illness and personal crisis holistically. It is a message of empowerment and hope. I want for people to have the tools they need to manage private situations on their own terms.
John: How can people get involved or help?
Sarah: One, we need to make our organization an official, legal entity. To help us with this, please visit GoFundMe.com/hmgorg. We have detailed information about what we're doing, campaign and event updates, and comments from donors that will melt your heart. Every dollar helps. Every campaign share helps.
Two they can help by partnering with us as a storage partner location. We are interviewing Gun Shop and FFL Partners across the US to consider for the pilot program. The idea partner for the pilot would be a location which is reputable, compassionate, has a current FFL, storage space, has their finger on the pulse of their respective community and knows their needs, has classrooms in their location and ideally a range to help facilitate the educational component of HMG. We will be connecting them to mental health and medical professionals to facilitate relationships so that when patients need to have firearms storage as part of their treatment plan, those professionals can gladly share information about the Hold My Guns program.
Three, they can help by connecting us with contacts from organizations in various sectors such as veterans support, educational enrichment, mental health, medical, and legal advocacy.
Four, they can help by volunteering to help get the word out. This can be as simple as sharing our campaign and mission on social media, or, when the time comes, to attend events in their community to share about the Hold My Guns program.
Readers can check out Hold My Guns at www.holdmyguns.org
About John Crump
John is a NRA instructor and a constitutional activist. He is the former CEO of Veritas Firearms, LLC and is the co-host of The Patriot News Podcast which can be found at www.blogtalkradio.com/patriotnews. John has written extensively on the patriot movement including 3%'ers, Oath Keepers, and Militias. In addition to the Patriot movement, John has written about firearms, interviewed people of all walks of life, and on the Constitution. John lives in Northern Virginia with his wife and sons and is currently working on a book on leftist deplatforming methods and can be followed on Twitter at @crumpyss, on Facebook at realjohncrump, or at www.crumpy.com.