Three days before I was scheduled to represent the Maine Gun Safety Coalition at an American Foundation for Suicide Prevention walk, I was informed that I was no longer allowed to speak. I mentioned that my remarks echoed the same messages about gun safety put forth by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s partner since 2015. It turned out that this partnership between the nation’s largest suicide prevention organization and the nation’s second-most-powerful gun lobbying group was precisely the reason why the Maine Gun Safety Coalition was disinvited.

This summer, we were thrilled when the local coordinators of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Out of the Darkness Walk in Portland invited us to speak about how the safe storage of firearms can prevent suicides. It was a pleasure working with the local coordinators leading up to the event. We agreed about the importance of educating gun owners on safe storage practices in the home to reduce gun suicides.

On Sept. 21, three days before the walk, I received an email from a volunteer for the suicide prevention nonprofit: “We just heard from our National office for the AFSP and unfortunately we will be unable to have you speak at our walk.”

Perplexed, I asked why. I was told, “The most compelling reason for not having you speak is the possibility that gun rights groups could construe AFSP as supporting gun control, background checks and other anti-gun ownership matters.”

This only added to the confusion because the Maine Gun Safety Coalition is not anti-gun ownership. Our board includes several hunters and two police chiefs who carry guns for work, and I’ve been a recreational shooter since Cub Scouts.

Despite the varying reasons for owning a gun, we all agree that being a responsible gun owner means storing guns unloaded and locked – that’s why we’ve distributed over 25,000 free trigger locks throughout Maine. Our mission is to save lives, and we believe suicide prevention must be part of every conversation about reducing gun deaths, because U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data indicate that 86 percent of gun deaths in Maine are the result of suicide.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation represents gun manufacturers and dealers. With headquarters located just three miles from Sandy Hook Elementary School, the gun industry trade group is led by Steve Sanetti, who was president of gunmaker Sturm, Ruger & Co. for 28 years. The group spends millions annually lobbying against policies aimed at curbing gun suicides. Its website includes educational tips such as “If someone calls an AR-15-style rifle an ‘assault weapon,’ he or she either supports banning these firearms or does not understand their function and sporting use, or both. Please correct them.”

I feel compelled to speak out because I recently learned that another gun violence prevention group like the Maine Gun Safety Coalition was treated poorly by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. In late October, the suicide prevention foundation denied Brady Campaign and Moms Demand Action volunteers the opportunity to distribute materials at their San Diego walk, the nonprofit investigative news organization Voice of San Diego reported. National Shooting Sports Foundation materials, however, were distributed at the event.

Prior to the National Shooting Sports Foundation and American Foundation for Suicide Prevention partnership, gun violence prevention groups routinely distributed information at the suicide prevention group’s events. With the focus on suicide, these materials typically addressed the safe storage of firearms in the home.

We are concerned that since the partnership was announced two years ago, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention staff and volunteers haven’t been able to point to any examples of gun dealers, shooting ranges or gun clubs distributing the gun industry trade group’s and the suicide prevention group’s jointly developed Firearms and Suicide Prevention materials or giving their Talk Saves Lives presentation in Maine. In fact, the volunteers I spoke to were unaware of the partnership!

The Maine Gun Safety Coalition applauds the hard-working American Foundation for Suicide Prevention staff and volunteers for their efforts to reduce firearm suicide by engaging gun dealers and firearm safety trainers to educate gun owners about risk reduction. Our organization plans to continue to have productive conversations with the suicide prevention group’s local organizers in the hope that we can treat each other with mutual respect in our shared mission to reduce gun suicides. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention does valuable work, and we hope to partner with them again in the future.