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Start the Conversation: Talking to a Veteran About Firearm Safety
For a Veteran who is going through a tough time or an emotional crisis, a safely stored firearm can mean the difference between a tragic outcome and a life saved. As a concerned loved one, friend, or clinician, you have the power to initiate a conversation about safely handling and storing firearms.
Did You Know?
- A 2012 study showed that firearms could be found in roughly 34 percent of homes nationwide. — General Social Survey, 2013
- Firearms, along with poisonings, motor vehicle crashes, falls, and suffocation, were among the top five causes of injury-related deaths nationwide in 2013. — National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, 2013
- Nearly 7 out of every 10 Veteran deaths by suicide are the result of firearm injuries. — Department of Veterans Affairs, 2016
- The risk of unintentional firearm death among youths drops by 80 percent when guns and ammunition are stored separately in a lockbox. — Journal of the American Medical Association, 2005
How to Approach a Conversation About Firearm Safety
Having a conversation with a Veteran about firearm safety can be challenging. As someone who likely had some level of firearm training during their military service, the Veteran may not be receptive to talking about best practices for gun storage and security.
It can be helpful to frame your conversation around the safety of others — family, friends, or children who may not know how to properly handle a firearm or understand its dangers, which could result in accidental injury or death.
Key Points for Talking About Firearm Safety
The best way to find out if a Veteran you’re concerned about has access to firearms is to ask. If the Veteran has access to a firearm, suggest that they take the following steps to keep themselves and their family safe:
- Make sure firearms cannot be accessed by children and unauthorized adults by keeping guns locked and unloaded when not in use
- Store ammunition separately from firearms and out of the reach of children and unauthorized adults
- Regularly reassess steps to ensure the safe storage and use of firearms, especially during periods of increased stress or emotional crisis
- Request a gunlock from your local VA Suicide Prevention Coordinator (SPC). Find your local SPC using the VA Resource Locator
Warning Signs of Distress
There are times when taking additional steps to ensure firearm safety is particularly important. Take extra precautions when someone you’re concerned about is:
- Increasingly isolated
- Experiencing an emotional crisis or displaying significant behavioral change
- Under the influence of drugs or alcohol or increasing the use of alcohol or drugs,
At a minimum, all firearms should be stored, unloaded, and locked in a gun safe, cabinet, or storage case when not in use. Off-site storage may be advisable if there are concerns about the well-being of a Veteran or family members.
Know the Warning Signs of Crisis and Suicide Risk
Though not all distressing thoughts and emotions lead to a crisis, if left unchecked, they could become a serious issue with time. Learning to recognize the signs of crisis and suicide risk is an important first step in understanding if someone you care about needs immediate help. Although many Veterans may not show any signs of intent to harm themselves before doing so, some behaviors — such as sleeping excessively or not at all, engaging in risky or reckless behaviors, having dramatic mood changes or deep sadness, or giving away prized possessions — may indicate the Veteran is in crisis and at greater risk of suicide.
The best way to find out if a Veteran you know is thinking about suicide is to ask. Remember: Asking people if they’re having thoughts of suicide does not put the idea into their heads or increase their risk of harming themselves. In fact, Veterans who are contemplating suicide may welcome the chance to talk about their feelings. Talking may also help them feel less alone.
If your Veteran is showing warning signs of crisis, please call the Veterans Crisis Line, chat online, or send a text message today.