Pastor initiates gun buy-back program in rural SC to address suicide prevention

Rev. Hillary Taylor

With suicide rates on the rise, a pastor in rural South Carolina is launching a gun buy-back initiative to keep firearms from those who may harm themselves.

The Rev. Hillary Taylor grew up an avid hunter who also battled suicidal thoughts. Her family helped her get counseling, and her church reminded her of God's love. 

But that isn't the case for everyone, and in many cases, the church hasn't done a good job at addressing mental health, Taylor said.

Today, she's leading an initiative that will allow people to resell firearms that will be repurposed as garden tools.

"I want people to know the church cares about depression and mental health," she said. "We are here and present for people. We want to reconnect you to services, a sense of community and help you get better.”

Taylor, who is coordinating the effort with the support of other local churches, is planning the buy-back event for 1-5 p.m. Sept. 7. It will take place beside the picnic shelter near Saluda Town Hall at 100 South Jefferson Street.

Gun owners will receive Walmart gift cards worth $50-$150, depending on the model and make of the gun. A location for the event is still to be determined.

In the meantime, anyone who wants to support the effort can donate Walmart gift cards. To do that, checks or Walmart gift cards (in increments of $50) can be mailed to Bethany United Methodist Church, 1146 Hickory Grove Road, Saluda, S.C. 29138. Checks should be written to Bethany United Methodist Church, with “buy-back” in the memo line.

Following most gun buy-back events, the purchased weapons are destroyed. In this effort, however, Taylor wants to disable the guns and repurpose them in the Saluda community as gardening tools or artwork.

The effort, Taylor said, almost literally plays out Isaiah 2:4: “... they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

A strong supporter of the Second Amendment and a gun owner herself, Taylor made the point that most gun-owners aren't reckless, but deeply passionate and responsible. But she added that "not everybody who has a gun feels safe with it in the house.”

"There are many reasons why people may have a gun," she said. "But there are many reasons why people may want to get rid of a gun.”

Firearms can be dangerous if they get into the hands of those who wish to harm others or themselves. Reports from the National Alliance on Mental Illness highlight that states with high firearm prevalence also have a higher risk for suicide. 

Bill Lindsey, executive director of NAMI South Carolina, said suicide is often an impulsive act, which can prove lethal for those with easy access to firearms. He noted that in 2017, there were 123 people dying daily due to suicide. Despite this alarming statistic, he said the crisis doesn't receive the attention it deserves.

He said NAMI is involved in several programs to raise awareness, including End the Silence programs in schools that help students learn the warning signs of mental health conditions and what steps to take if someone is showing symptoms.

If anything, he said gun buy-back programs help spark conversations about an issue that is often ignored, Lindsey said.

“The more this issue is talked about, and they can see the danger of having the guns out there, I think it could be a big help," he said.

While NAMI isn't currently advocating for any specific policies or laws to address the issue, Lindsey pointed to legislation passed in recent years that requires state probate courts to report the names of all individuals adjudicated mentally ill in the past 10 years. Those on the list are barred from purchasing firearms.

Follow Rickey Dennis on Twitter @RCDJunior.

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