Firearms and Suicide Prevention education program

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

There’s no single cause for suicide. We all have mental health, just like we all have physical health. Conditions like depression, anxiety and substance use problems, especially when unaddressed, increase risk for suicide. That risk is greater when a firearm is also present in the home or accessible. Most people who actively manage their mental health conditions lead fulfilling lives.

So have your buddy’s back. Trust your gut. If you’re worried, it’s okay to have a brave conversation and ask them directly about suicide. We know through research that asking won’t put the idea in their head, or push them to act on it. In most cases, they’ll feel relieved that someone cares enough to bring it up.

So learn the common risk factors and warning signs for suicide, so you know them when you see them. Encourage your friends to store their guns safely and securely, locked and unloaded. During a crisis, help them remove firearms from the home until the period of distress resolves. Help them get the support they need — when they need it.

Do the same for yourself. Pay attention to how you’re feeling. If you’re going through a tough time and exhibiting some of the warning signs, ask a buddy for help. Ask him to connect you with support and to help store your guns safely until you feel more like yourself again.

Remember: those who don’t have immediate access to a means of killing themselves don’t simply find another way. Most live through it and regain their usual ways of coping. Removing access to firearms and all other lethal means and providing support helps get people past the intense, temporary moment of suicidal crisis…and can save a life.

The AFSP Firearms and Suicide Prevention brochure provides gun owners with valuable information on suicide prevention, giving them practical strategies for recognizing warning signs and taking action, as well as multiple options for safely storing firearms.

View the brochure

Storing firearms safely

Research shows that the presence of guns in the home increases suicide risk. Because lethal means are such a critical factor when it comes to suicide, the best way to help protect a person at risk is to remove all lethal means, including firearms, from the home during the period of suicide risk. Other ways to secure firearms (locked and unloaded) are also protective but secondary to lethal means removal, to prevent suicide.

As a gun owner, you can choose from multiple options for safely storing and protecting your firearms when they’re not in use: cable locks, lock boxes, gun cases, and full size gun safes.

If someone close to you has died by suicide

If someone close to you has died by suicide, you can find resources here.

For firearms retailers and range owners, AFSP has resources to help you respond to a suicide at your establishment.  Click the button below for After a Suicide: Guide for Firearms Retailers and Range Owners.  This guide and other resources are available through your local AFSP chapter.

View the booklet

Why have a firearms and suicide prevention program?

Suicide is a major public health issue with a 25 percent increase over the past two decades and remains the 10th leading cause of death with the rate continuing to increase. As the nation’s largest suicide prevention organization, AFSP has set an imperative to use new evidence-based approaches to save as many lives as possible through Project 2025.

Project 2025 identifies a set of critical areas, based on in-depth analysis, where the most lives can be saved in the shortest amount of time. In the critical area of suicide by firearm, we learned that educating firearms owners about suicide prevention has the potential to save more than 9,000 lives by 2025 if implemented nationwide.

We know the facts well:

  • Half of all suicides in the U.S. are by firearm
  • Suicide risk increases when lethal means are readily accessible
  • Research shows that having a firearm in the home increases the risk of suicide

To date, efforts to reduce suicide by gun have largely failed – with 23,000 lives lost each year – we must try a new approach. There is promising evidence that providing suicide prevention training for those who influence a specific community can reduce the suicide risk for that community.  Research also tells us that 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 can reduce suicide. In fact, this approach is called for in our country’s 2012 National Strategy for Suicide Prevention.

Frequently asked questions about the program

What is AFSP’s position on firearms?

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention seeks to use our expertise in suicide prevention to help reduce all suicide, including suicide by firearm. Research tells us that by educating the firearms community about suicide risk, safe storage and removing access to lethal means, including firearms, when someone is at risk, we can reduce suicide. This gives suicidal individuals something they desperately need: time for the intense suicidal risk to diminish and time for someone to intervene with mental health support and resources. Research has shown that separating suicidal individuals from a variety of lethal means helps prevent suicide. AFSP endorses incorporating suicide prevention education as a basic tenet of firearm safety and responsible gun ownership.

What is the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF)?

NSSF is the trade association for America's firearms industry. Formed in 1961, NSSF has a membership of more than 12,000 manufacturers, distributors, firearms retailers, shooting ranges, sportsmen's organizations, and publishers.

Why collaborate with the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF)?

By working with the National Shooting Sports Foundation, we are systematically disseminating suicide prevention education to thousands of gun retail stores, shooting ranges and gun owners nationwide. Importantly, AFSP receives no funding from NSSF, firearms manufacturers or gun lobbying organizations, nor is AFSP providing funds to NSSF or similar groups. We are taking an unprecedented, large-scale step to reduce suicide by firearm and save as many lives as possible.

Why educate firearms retailers and range owners?

Half of all suicide deaths in the U.S. occur with a firearm. Firearms retailers and range owners are in a unique position to help prevent suicide given their ongoing contact with the firearms-owning community. This education focuses on risk factors and warning signs, and actions that must be taken: safe storage (locked and unloaded), and during periods of risk, temporary removal of firearms from the home; and denying sale when appropriate. By providing public education resources to them, the firearms-owning community can help spread the word to those who may be concerned about a friend or family member who is feeling suicidal and who may be operating a firearm. Our goal is for peers or loved ones to have a conversation with that person, help them temporarily remove firearms from the home, and advocate for safe storage of their firearm while they, or a person in their home, may be in distress.

Where do I go for more information?

See the press release about the partnership for more information. If you need additional information you can contact Doreen Marshall, VP of Programs, at dmarshall@afsp.org or Stephanie Coggin, VP of Communications, at scoggin@afsp.org.

Is the partnership advocating no guns in the home?

Because lethal means are such a critical factor when it comes to suicide, the best way to help protect the person at risk is to remove all lethal means, including firearms, from the home during the period of suicide risk. Other measures such as safe storage are reasonable but secondary to lethal means removal to help prevent suicide.

What are some statistics on firearm suicide?

Here are some statistics related to firearms and suicide:

  • Firearms are the most commonly used method of suicide — more than half (51 percent of all suicides in the U.S.) are completed with a firearm, accounting for more suicides than any other method (CDC fatal injury data, 2016).
  • Firearms are a lethal method of suicide — 85 – 90 percent of suicide attempts with a firearm are fatal (CDC fatal injury data, 2015). Keeping the home environment safe for all family members is an important suicide prevention principle. Because firearms owners are no more likely than non-firearms owners to have mental health problems or to attempt suicide, their increased suicide risk likely stems from the greater lethality of attempts involving guns.
  • Nearly two-thirds of all firearm-related deaths are suicides.

If someone wants to end their life by firearm, won’t they find another way to do it if they do not have access to a gun?

There is very strong evidence that when those who are suicidal do not have access to a chosen lethal method for suicide, most do not typically shift to a different method. In most cases, they will not go on to make an attempt or end their life. We also know that the vast majority of people who attempt suicide do not go on to ultimately die by suicide, meaning that over time, far more people will attempt than will die by suicide.

By separating a suicidal person from their firearm even temporarily, you increase their chances for survival by removing a highly lethal method from their access. If they do attempt, they may be more likely to choose a less lethal method if their firearm is not readily available. One of the important factors we can give a suicidal person is time: for the person to move out of the crisis moment and regain their usual healthier ways of coping; to receive help; for the attempt to be interrupted; or for the person to change their mind.

Our ability to buy time is a life saving measure when it comes to suicide.

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