Nearly 45% of Veterans report owning guns (as opposed to 20% of non-Veterans), and most gun owners, including Veterans, cite protection as the primary reason for owning guns. But because there is a significant correlation between household firearm ownership and suicide, we also need to protect our homes against suicide risk.
Aimee Johnson, a consultant with RDS and a licensed clinical social worker, is passionate about firearm safety. We asked her to share some practical and evidence-informed strategies that we can all promote to enhance firearm safety measures and help save lives.
Here’s what Aimee has to say:
Partner with gun owners and the firearm industry.
We need businesses working in the firearm industry to help prevent firearm suicide. During the COVID-19 pandemic there were more first-time gun owners than ever before. Overall gun sales nationwide are unprecedented. People who purchased firearms during COVID-19 more frequently reported suicidal ideation over the past month, year, and lifetime than non-firearm owners and firearm owners who did not purchase during COVID-19 as of March 2021. We need to communicate effectively about the often-unknown risk of suicide at the point of sale and following the purchase of firearms.
Establish community level voluntary, temporary out-of-home secure storage options.
Through cross-sector partnerships like the VISION Coalition and within local laws, we can find ways to allow someone who needs to store a firearm outside the home that option. When you or someone in your home is going through a tough time, when there is active substance use, a history of or current suicidal crisis or other financial and relationship crisis, storing firearms out of the home can reduce suicide risk and reduce the risk of unauthorized access.
Store firearms securely.
Securely storing has a specific definition: storing firearms unloaded with at least one locking mechanism on the firearm while storing ammunition separately and locked. The market for firearm storage options has also expanded with more options such as cable locks or options for installing home safes, vaults, and even biometric and remote options for securing firearms electronically. When someone is in a crisis and having thoughts of suicide, the faster they can access a loaded firearm or other lethal means, the worse the outcome. By increasing the time and space between someone in a crisis and a loaded firearm, we can all save lives.
Guns, alcohol, and other substances should not mix.
Just like drinking and driving should not mix, firearms, substance use, and alcohol should not mix either. Gun owners can help encourage the important separation between substance use and firearms and encourage anyone struggling with substance use to seek help. Suicidal crises often involve substance use. Treatment can work, 12-step programs can work. Sobriety is cool. Recovery is possible.