MEQUON, Wis. — Local gun shops and shooting ranges are becoming safe-havens for veterans, thanks to a new program aimed at helping people put down their guns in the time of crisis.
It's the latest program to be highlighted in TMJ4's Two America's series. The series is exposing problems in our community you might not realize exist and highlighting ways our neighbors are working to find solutions.
The program is called the Gun Safe Storage program. Originally, it was designed specifically to give veterans a place to temporarily turn in their guns while they seek help for mental health issues, such as suicidal thoughts.
Bear Arms Boutique Shooting Range in Mequon is one of more than a dozen shops now participating in the program.
Typically, people go to gun shops and ranges to buy and fire firearms, but owner Cheryle Rebholz, who has a passion for firearm education, says she was eager to get involved in this program that works to protect veterans.
"It could save a life, or more, and buys time for them to seek free services and to address whatever is going on," said Rebholz. "At any time, no questions asked, (the veterans) can come in to our range, Bear Arms, and drop off their firearm or arms - more than one - for up to 90 days. Then, we will return it to them after 90 days."
Bear Arms charges just $5 per month to store the guns in a secure safe. The reason Rebholz says the program isn't free is because veterans often have a sense of pride that discourages them from accepting free things. It's that type of attention to detail that helps veterans feel confident leaving their guns in this gun range.
"They trust us. It's a trust relationship," she said. "Veterans, in the research that they did, trust retail stores more than they trust the government. They fear that the government will confiscate and never return. Gun ranges, they know the relationships here. We are one of them. We are users - recreation, self defense - and we are going to return it. Plus, they have documentation and we cannot keep (the guns). It's against the law."
The program is critical. Back in October, TMJ4's Ryan Jenkins talked with Dr. Bert Berger with the Milwaukee Zablocki VA Hospital. Dr. Berger said 70% of veterans die by suicide use firearms, compared to 50% of non-veterans.
"Veterans tend to have firearms, they know how to shoot guns, they're trained to use them, they love their guns," said Dr. Berger. "One thing we're really looking at is, how can we get the message out to veterans that if you're in a crisis, put the gun away, put it somewhere else. You can live another day if you can just put that gun in a different spot."
This is use of a space designed for hobby and recreation intersecting with a program designed to help save and heal our local veterans.
Civilians, or non-veterans, are also invited to take part in the program.
To find a participating gun shop near you, visit https://www.betherewis.com/