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Survivor Spotlight: Dorothy Paugh

Dorothy takes a selfie in front of her son and father

Dorothy Paugh is a retired US Navy officer who qualified as a marksman on an M-16 rifle. She lives in Maryland with her husband who is an avid duck hunter and Second Amendment supporter. After losing both her dad and son to suicide by gun, she began writing and speaking to raise awareness of the three-fold risk of suicide that a firearm carries so people take steps to keep firearms away from anyone in crisis.

How did you get involved with Moms Demand Action and the Everytown Survivor Network?

I learned firsthand how devastating and helpless losing someone to suicide feels. I became involved as a Social Media lead and Everytown Survivor Fellow after losing my son Pete, just 25 to suicide by gun in 2012. Pete had graduated from college, found a good job, and bought an old house with his girlfriend. No one saw any signs he was in such distress, but that was not the case in 1965. My dad, 51, an Army Master Sergeant, told mom he was planning to shoot himself. She called his best friend and the parish priest and both talked with him, but neither asked to take his gun from him. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

What is your proudest accomplishment to date?

After reading up on what’s proven to prevent suicides, I asked my state delegate to introduce an extreme risk protective order (ERPO) aka red flag bill. Although initially it had little support, after the Parkland mass shooting, our Republican governor said he wanted our bill to pass. With bipartisan support, it became law in October 2018. It allows family members, law enforcement and others to petition in district court for the temporary removal of firearms and ammunition with a ban on buying any more. It’s based on behaviors that suggest a person may harm themselves or someone else. Over 1,000 ERPO petitions have been granted by judges across Maryland so far.

What is one thing you hope to personally accomplish as a survivor leader in the coming year?

I’m working with Moms Demand Action leaders to make sure that Marylanders know keeping firearms away from people in crisis just might save that person’s life. Similar to Be SMART, the onus needs to be on those around a struggling person to reach out to them rather than expecting them to reach out for help. Those in the midst of a suicidal crisis may be overwhelmed and not thinking clearly.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

September is National Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month. In the US, over 60% of all gun deaths are suicides. Half of all suicides are by firearm. We need to bust myths about suicide and mental illness such as: “Without a gun handy, they’ll just find another way, “If they’re talking about suicide, they’re not serious” and “Bringing up suicide will put the idea in their head.” None of that is true. Without a gun handy, most people in a suicidal crisis won’t just find another way to die, they’ll find a way to live. I want everyone to know we are not helpless. Keeping firearms away from people in crisis saves lives. It is simple, inexpensive, and effective at preventing many suicides. And that no one is expected to handle all this alone: Anyone concerned for themselves or someone else can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 800-273-8255 or text home to 741-741.

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