Firearm Suicide Prevention & Lethal Means Safety - REACH
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Firearm Suicide Prevention & Lethal Means Safety

Safe Storage: From One Veteran to Another

Practice Safe Storage of Firearms, Medication & Other Lethal Means

Lethal means are objects like guns, medications, alcohol, opioids or other substances, ropes, cords, or sharp objects that can be used during a suicidal crisis. If a Veteran is in crisis or having suicidal thoughts, these items can become deadly when they are easily accessible. For example, nearly 7 out of every 10 Veteran deaths by suicide are the result of firearm injuries (Dept. of Veteran Affairs, 2018).

Increasing the time and distance between someone in a suicidal crisis and access to lethal means can reduce suicide risk and save lives. There are simple steps you can take to protect yourself and your family. On this page, you’ll find:

  • How to identify and handle a suicidal crisis
  • Helpful tips for storing guns, medications, and other lethal means
  • Additional resources about safe storage

How to Identify and Handle a Suicidal Crisis

First, Veterans in crisis may show behaviors that indicate high risk of self-harm. Signs of a suicidal crisis can vary for each person, but could include:

  • Changes in mood and activities
  • An increase in alcohol or drug use
  • Expressions of hopelessness or agitation
  • Engaging in risky activities without thinking
  • Withdrawing from family and friends

Remember: All Veterans are different, and just because a Veteran owns a gun or takes medication doesn't mean they will become suicidal. But knowing these warning signs could help save the life of a Veteran in crisis.

Second, it’s important that Veterans know they’re not alone and support is available. Here are some of the actions you can take to help reduce gun and other household safety risks:

  • Ask them directly: “Are you thinking about suicide?” Use this VA S.A.V.E. Training for tips on how to talk with your Veteran loved one.
  • Encourage them to seek help. Suicide prevention coordinators (SPCs), specially trained licensed mental health providers, are available at all VA medical centers across the country. Find a local SPC here.
  • Talk about safe gun and medication storage options, such as using a gun lock, or disposing of unused or expired medication.

Tips on Safe Storage

Gun with gun lock -

A safe home environment can buy you, or someone you care about, time to get help. Contrary to popular belief, people who are suicidal don’t generally seek other ways to attempt suicide if they can’t access the method they planned to use. Nor will they attempt suicide if safeguards are in place making the method more difficult.

It’s important to keep in mind: During a crisis, remove any household items that could be used to harm oneself.

Tips on Safe Gun Storage

Gun injuries in the home can be prevented. How? By making sure guns are unloaded, locked, and secured when not in use, with ammunition stored in a different location. Many suicidal crises can be brief, so safely storing guns can save a life by adding small barriers between suicidal impulse and action.

There are several effective ways to store your guns:

  • Cable lock: Request a gun lock from your local suicide prevention coordinator (SPC). Find your local SPC using the VA Resource Locator.
  • Lockbox or gun case: For those looking to conceal or protect guns. Be sure to lock with an external device for added security.
  • Electronic lockbox: Only the person with the code can access contents. Some are designed for quick access to stored guns.
  • Biometric safes

For more tips on safe gun storage from the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), click here.

Tips on Safe Medication Storage

For some Veterans and their family members, taking medications is part of leading a healthy life. But medications should be safely and securely stored when not in use.

Here are some tips for preventing intentional and unintentional overdose:

  • Keep medications secured and out of a child’s sight and reach.
  • Have a family member or friend help manage your medication dosages.
  • Portion out pills for a week and lock the others away.
  • Store any sedative, stimulant, or opioid medications under lock and key (medication lockboxes are available at any pharmacy).
  • Ask your doctor or pharmacist to limit the number of refills or quantity of medication or request a blister pack.
  • Dispose of any medication past its expiration date, unused within the past 12 months, or no longer needed.

Visit the VA Center for Medication Safety website for more information or ask your doctor or pharmacist about options for safely storing medications or disposing of unused medications. To learn more about reducing the harm and risk of life-threatening opioid-related overdose and deaths among Veterans, click here.

Remember: Safe medication storage adds a small barrier between suicidal impulse and action.

More Ways to Protect Yourself and Your Family

Support for Survivors of a Suicide Attempt or a Suicide Loss

As you support the Veteran in your life, VA is here to support you. If you are seeking answers following an attempted suicide or the loss of a loved one by suicide, please see the resources and information on the Coping & Support page to find help as you navigate this process.