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An introduction to firearms and suicide prevention

There is promising evidence that providing suicide prevention training for those who influence a specific community can reduce the suicide risk for that community.

Understanding firearms and suicide prevention

No one takes their life for a single reason. We all have mental health, just as we all have physical health, and conditions such as depression, anxiety and substance use problems – especially when unaddressed – increase the risk of suicide. That risk is greater when a firearm is present and accessible in the home.

Temporarily removing lethal means from someone in suicidal crisis greatly reduces the likelihood of that person dying by suicide, because it gives at-risk individuals something they crucially need: time.

Research shows that most people in suicidal crisis who don't have easy access to a lethal suicide method will not simply find another way to kill themselves. Removing access to firearms and other lethal means allows time for both the moment of intense suicidal crisis to pass, and for someone to intervene with potentially lifesaving mental health support and resources.

AFSP endorses suicide prevention education as a basic tenet of firearm safety and responsible gun ownership. From practicing safe storage and the temporary removal of access to firearms when someone is at risk, to learning about common risk factors and warning signs for suicide, there are simple actions we can all take to help save lives.

Why have a firearms and suicide prevention program?

Suicide is a major public health issue, and remains the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. It’s important to note that:

  • Half of all suicides in the U.S. are by firearm
  • Nearly two thirds of all firearms-related deaths in the U.S. are suicides
  • 85 – 90 percent of suicide attempts with a firearm are fatal

As the nation’s largest suicide prevention organization, AFSP is dedicated to using evidence-based approaches to help save as many lives as possible through Project 2025, our nationwide initiative to reduce the annual rate of suicide in the U.S. 20 percent by 2025. Project 2025 identifies four critical areas – firearms, emergency departments, healthcare systems and correctional institutions – through which we can save the most lives in the shortest amount of time.

Educating firearms owners about suicide prevention has the potential to save more than 9,000 lives by 2025, if implemented nationwide. By educating the firearms-owning community about suicide risk, safe storage and removing access to lethal means (including firearms) when someone is at risk, we know we can reduce the rate of suicide and save lives.

Storing firearms safely

Research shows that secure storage of guns reduces suicide risk. According to the CDC, 85-90% of suicide attempts with a firearm are fatal. Secure storage means storing all of your guns unloaded and secured, such as locked with a cable or trigger lock, or in a gun safe. The best way to help protect a person in distress is to temporarily remove all lethal means, including firearms, from the home until the person is no longer in a state of crisis. Options for temporarily storing your guns outside your home vary by state and community.

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