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A major aspect of suicide prevention is called Lethal Means Reduction. Like the name implies, this means putting time and distance between people who are experiencing suicidality and ways for them to take their own life. This can look different for each individual situation such as locking medicine cabinets, removing knives and sharp instruments from the kitchen, or removing toxic cleaning chemicals from the house.
However, in a rural area like Cortland County where hunting and shooting sports are common activities, we must direct our efforts of Lethal Means Reduction towards the access of firearms. Firearms are the most lethal means of suicide across the US and the world with nearly 9 out of 10 attempts being fatal.
People who are considering suicide often use whatever means is most accessible to them. Suicide attempts are often impulsive, and over 90% of people who attempt suicide and survive do not go on to die by suicide in the rest of their lives. Knowing this, when the most easily accessible means for an attempt is a firearm, people rarely get that second chance at life.
This does not mean taking firearms away from gun-owners. All this means is that extensive safety measures must be put in place to prevent firearms from being easily accessible to people who are experiencing a suicidal crisis. The best ways to safely store firearms is unloaded, with a cable or trigger lock in place, locked in an appropriately sized gun safe, with ammunition stored in a separate, locked safe.
A large percent of suicide deaths by firearm are done with firearms that belong to a family member or close friend. Keeping track of keys and regularly changing passcodes to safes and locks is important to prevent access to firearms from people other than the owner. However, having these safety precautions in place also protects and prevents gun-owners from easy access to firearms when they are experiencing a suicidal crisis.
Suicide attempts are often impulsive actions in response to highly stressful circumstances. For example, if a sudden event brings on a suicidal crisis and there is a loaded firearm stored in a closet, then that person could quickly and easily access that firearm and make an attempt on their life before they had a chance to reconsider. If that same scenario occurred in a home with full safety measures in place, that person would have to take the time to access the safe, remove the gunlock, access the ammunition, and load the firearm. Each addition step is providing that person more and more time to stop what they are doing, reconsider their decision, and prevent a suicide attempt from ever happening in the first place.
To help start gun-owners on the path of firearm safety, the SPEAK UP Cortland Suicide Prevention Coalition is proud to be able to provide FREE gunlocks to the people of Cortland County courtesy of our excellent members at the Cortland City Police Department and our local Office of Veterans Affairs. However, putting a lock on a firearm is only the first step in providing appropriate safety measures and should not be considered a fully protected firearm. Acquiring additional safes for guns and ammunition is the next step in the process.
If you or a loved one is at risk of suicide, consider asking a trusted friend or family member to store any firearms until the risk subsides. Local law enforcement agencies will also store firearms and often offer a home pick-up option as well. To learn more call your local Sheriff or Police Department about temporary storage options.