Lauren SinClair is the Suicide Prevention Community Engagement and Partnership Coordinator at the Loveland, CO, Department of Veterans Affairs. Her work focuses on guiding communities on suicide screenings, promoting connectivity, and lethal means safety counseling.

Firearm safe storage is a critical aspect of suicide prevention. In Wyoming, firearms are the most common method used in suicide deaths, accounting for nearly 70% of cases. The presence of a firearm in the home has been linked to an increased risk of suicide, primarily due to the lethal nature of firearms and the impulsivity often associated with suicide attempts.

Veterans are at an elevated risk for suicide, with firearms being a commonly used method. Firearms, due to their lethality and accessibility in the veteran community, pose a significant risk when not stored safely. The Department of Veterans Affairs reports that veterans are more likely to own firearms, and the use of firearms in veteran suicides is higher compared to the general population. Addressing this issue requires a focus on mental health support, responsible firearm storage, and continuous education about the risks and prevention strategies.

Safe storage practices involve keeping firearms unloaded, locked, and separate from ammunition. These measures are effective in reducing access to firearms, particularly for individuals who may be at risk of harming themselves or others. Increasing the time and space between a firearm can reduce suicide. Increasing time and space can be accomplished by utilizing a safe, disassembling a firearm, storing ammunition locked separately, or using out-of-home temporary secure storage.

Secure storage should also be utilized whenever a child is in the home. A study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that households that locked both firearms and ammunition had a 78% lower risk of self-inflicted firearm injuries among children and teenagers compared to those where neither were locked.

Furthermore, education and awareness campaigns are vital in promoting safe storage practices. Organizations like the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the National Shooting Sports Foundation have collaborated to educate the public and firearms owners about the importance of safe storage in preventing suicide. The Cheyenne VA actively promotes suicide prevention among veterans, focusing on the availability of cable gun locks, education, training, and community collaboration. It provides free cable gun locks to veterans and their communities, a simple yet effective tool for firearm safety. These locks prevent unauthorized use and are crucial in homes with at-risk individuals who may have no other options for storing one or multiple firearms. The VA also offers educational programs about safe firearm storage and its role in suicide prevention, consultation services, training, and mental health support tailored to veterans. This holistic approach combines practical safety measures with educational and mental health resources, reflecting the VA’s commitment to reducing suicide rates among veterans.

Providing access to mental health services, reducing the stigma associated with seeking help, and creating supportive communities can significantly impact suicide prevention. Discussing firearms and decreasing the stigma of firearm ownership is also critical to suicide prevention. It involves open, non-judgmental conversations about safe storage and the risks associated with accessible firearms, especially for individuals experiencing mental health challenges. Such dialogue can be lifesaving, emphasizing responsibility and care for oneself and others.

The safe storage of firearms is a critical component in the multifaceted approach required for effective suicide prevention. Through public education and mental health support, significant strides can be made in reducing the tragic occurrences of suicide involving firearms.

References:

  • Grossman, D. C., Mueller, B. A., Riedy, C., Dowd, M. D., Villaveces, A., Prodzinski, J., … & Harruff, R. (2005). Gun storage practices and risk of youth suicide and unintentional firearm injuries. Journal of the American Medical Association, 293(6), 707-714.
  • Conner, A., Azrael, D., & Miller, M. (2018). Public opinion about the relationship between firearm availability and suicide: Results from a national survey. Annals of Internal Medicine, 168(2), 153-155.
  • American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. (n.d.). Firearms and Suicide Prevention. Retrieved from [AFSP website]
  • National Shooting Sports Foundation. (n.d.). Safe Storage. Retrieved from [NSSF website]
  • Knopov, A., Sherman, R. J., Raifman, J. R., Larson, E., & Siegel, M. B. (2018). Household gun ownership and youth suicide rates at the state level, 2005–2015. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 56(3), 335-342.
  • S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2023). 2023 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report. Retrieved from https://department.va.gov/suicide-prevention-annual-report/

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