This story ran in The Boulder Daily Camera on Dec. 1, 2013
By April Nowicki
CU News Corps
In remote Hinsdale County, in the southwest part of Colorado, Danielle Worthen was concerned. Her 5-year-old daughter went to daycare in the home of another family that Worthen knew kept guns in the house.
The Worthen family didn’t own any guns, and Worthen wasn’t sure how to most effectively educate her daughter about guns and firearm safety. She approached Hinsdale County Sheriff Ron Bruce with her dilemma.
“I asked him if he would consider doing a rudimentary class exposing some of these young kids to guns,” Worthen said. “And he said, ‘I’ll talk to the [superintendent] and have a class, showing these kids, letting them hold a gun. Talk to them about the power and all that stuff.’”
Bruce organized the student firearm education class, and about 15 students from the Lake City Community School attended. That was 10 years ago.
Today, Lake City — the only town in Hinsdale County — is known as the most remote county in the U.S., designated so in 2007 by the U.S. Geological Survey.
Although gun ownership may seem ubiquitous there, gun violence is rare and no gun deaths have occurred in the past two years in Hinsdale County, which is 1,123 square miles – seven times the size of Denver County.
“It’s the same issues here [as in the bigger counties], it’s just that we all know each other,” Worthen said. “We know each other’s kids, everyone knows everyone’s names. You get more entrenched.”
More than half of the counties in Colorado are classified by the U.S. Census as “rural,” and though kids growing up in those places may be part of tighter-knit communities, they may also be more likely to run across a firearm in their home or in the home of a friend.
More than 500 Coloradans killed themselves with guns in 2012, and some researchers say that gun safety education isn’t enough, because just the presence of a firearm increases the risk of suicide. In Colorado in 2012, 11 suicides by gun took the lives of people age 18 or under, according to the U.S. Census.
CU News Corps, an investigative journalism project at the University of Colorado Boulder, is collecting statistics about gun deaths in Colorado. So far in 2013, in the 46 counties that have reported gun deaths, 195 people have killed themselves using a gun. Of those, five were teens age 18 or under. All five were residents of counties classified as “urban” by the state demography office. Seventeen counties have reported zero gun deaths, and all were in rural areas.
Worthen and her husband are confident that their now 15-year-old daughter, an only child, is well-informed. They still do not own any guns but have gone with friends to a shooting range in the past year. Worthen said that both she and her teen daughter feel more comfortable shooting a .22 rifle than a pistol.
Ten of Colorado’s 63 counties are considered urban and are home to 75 percent of the population. The population density in those areas contributes to the higher suicide rate, but rural officials say initiating gun safety education for kids has potential to support a culture that can help keep communities safer. Strong family connections may also be a factor that help keep rural area gun violence and suicides down, they say.